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Eli Lilly Acquires New Cancer Treatment Drugs

Within in one week, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly hopes two oncology purchases will boost its cancer drug portfolio.

Eli Lilly has purchased two smaller companies in the past week that have oncology drugs in development. The Indianapolis-based company hopes the investments boost its cancer drug portfolio.

Last week Eli Lilly announced a $1.6 billion buyout of California-based ARMO BioScience for an immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy treatments – which train the body to fight disease – have gained momentum recently.

University of Michigan professor Dr. Shirish Gadgeel is a lung cancer specialist and says Lilly hopes the compound will activate a cancer patient’s immune system to destroy tumors.

“Now that you block that process, the patient’s immune system can now recognize the cancer as abnormal or cancerous tissue and attack it and potentially even eradicate it,” Gadgeel says.

Eli Lilly bought ARMO’s immunotherapy drug, pegilodecakin, that’s in late-stage clinical trials for pancreatic cancer. The drug is also in early-stage clinical trials for lung and renal cell cancer, melanoma and other solid tumors. Gadgeel says even if ARMO’s medicine works, a buyout now makes sense.

“Generally these companies can develop a drug, but then that final step of drug approval and then drug marketing can be fairly challenging for a small company,” Gadgeel says.

The purchase breaks down to about $50 a share which is nearly triple the amount when ARMO went public last January – at $17 a share. The deal must first be approved by regulators, but Lilly expects the deal to close by the end of the second quarter.

President of Lilly Oncology Sue Mahony said in a written release, “At Lilly Oncology, we are dedicated to developing cancer medicines that will make a meaningful difference for patients. The acquisition of ARMO BioSciences adds a promising next generation clinical immunotherapy asset to Lilly’s portfolio of innovative oncology medicines.”

Only four days later, Lilly announced Monday another oncology drug acquisition it plans to make from Montreal-based AurKa Pharma Inc. for up to $575 million. The compound is no stranger to the Lilly Corporation.

The compound, AK-01, was originally discovered at Eli Lilly, but sold in 2016 to the outside investment group TVM Capital Life Sciences that then established Aurka Pharma. Now Lilly is buying back the developed compound that is in early-stage clinical trials for several types of solid tumors.

Purdue University strategic management professor Thomas Brush says these acquisitions can help Lilly continue to produce profitable drugs – a pipeline which has slowed in recent years.

“Many of the large companies end up needing to acquire new compounds or new types of treatments that can be patented,” says Brush.

Lilly says both transactions will not cause any changes to the company’s 2018 non-GAAP earnings-per-share-guidance.

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