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Otsuka Holdings Says It Hasn’t Yet Decided to Buy Astex

By Alex Nussbaum and Marco Lui
September 04, 2013 9:00 PM EDT

Otsuka Holdings Co. (4578), the maker of the mood-stabilizing drug Abilify, said it hasn’t yet decided to buy Astex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (ASTX), responding to a Nikkei report that it intends to pay 90 billion yen ($900 million) for the U.S. biotechnology company.

Otsuka isn’t the source of yesterday’s newspaper report, the company said today in a statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It will make an announcement once a decision is made. Astex surged 24 percent to a nine-year high of $8.27 at the close in New York yesterday, valuing the Dublin, California-based company at $785 million.

Otsuka, which also makes Pocari Sweat drinks and Soyjoy nutrition bars, wants to buy Astex to increase its stable of cancer drugs, the Nikkei report said. With one leukemia drug on the market and other treatments under development, Astex may command a higher price or attract other bidders, said Gene Mack, a Brean Capital LLC analyst based in New York.

“If it’s for real, I think the offer is too low,” Mack said in a telephone interview. “Any oncology company would look at it as a target.”

Otsuka fell as much as 0.4 percent to 2,970 yen in Tokyo trading, and traded down 0.2 percent at 2,974 yen as of 9:56 a.m. The shares have advanced 22 percent this year, lagging behind the 35 percent increase of the benchmark Topix index.

Astex’s SGI-110, an experimental treatment for acute myeloid leukemia, had positive results in a mid-stage clinical trial, the company said in an Aug. 28 statement. It has one marketed product, Dacogen, a leukemia drug licensed for sale by Eisai Co. and a unit of Johnson & Johnson.

Timothy Enns, a spokesman for Astex, didn’t respond to an e-mail and telephone call seeking comment on the report.

Abilify is one of the world’s best-selling schizophrenia treatments. Otsuka has been searching for new products before 2015, when its patent on Abilify expires.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at anussbaum1@bloomberg.net; Marco Lui in Tokyo at mlui11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net; Jason Gale at j.gale@bloomberg.net

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