2023-04-19| M&A

GSK Buys Bellus Health For $2 Billion, Lands Chronic Cough Asset

by Joy Lin
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GSK is buying Quebec-based Bellus Health, a late-stage biopharma company, in a deal estimated to be worth $2 billion. GSK will acquire Bellus for $14.75, representing a 103% premium over the Canadian biotech’s closing price of $7.23 the day before. 

Joining GSK’s portfolio is Bellus’ lead candidate, camlipixant, a selective P2X3 antagonist currently in Phase 3 development for the first-line treatment of adult patients with refractory chronic cough (RCC). 

Related article: GSK Bets $593 Million To License Scynexis’ Oral Antifungal 

Camlipixant Inhibits P2X3 to Reduce Cough Frequency

RCC refers to a persistent cough that lasts more than eight weeks and does not respond to treatment for an underlying condition or is idiopathic. Up to 10 million people globally, including 6 million in the US and the EU, suffer from RCC for over a year. 

Clinical data show that by inhibiting P2X3 receptors, camlipixant may reduce cough frequency while being less likely to affect the sense of taste, a side effect which has been linked to medicines that target P2X2/3, such as Merck’s gefapixant. 

Camlipixant is expected to obtain approval and launch in 2026. GSK expects the Bellus purchase to increase its earnings per share (EPS) from 2027, and anticipates significant sales in the next decade and beyond. 

“Patients suffering from severe forms of refractory chronic cough can experience over 900 coughs daily, resulting in quality-of-life issues,” said Luke Miels, Chief Commercial Officer, GSK. “Camlipixant, a novel, highly selective P2X3 antagonist, has the potential to be a best-in-class treatment with significant sales potential. This proposed acquisition complements our portfolio of specialty medicines and builds on our expertise in respiratory therapies.”

However, once it’s out, camlipixant may have to contend for sales against Merck’s gefapixant. In two Phase 3 trials, gefapixant reported 18.5% and 14.6% reductions in 24-hour cough frequency compared to placebo. Bellus’ candidate, on the other hand, reduced cough frequency by 34% in its Phase 2b. 

GSK will hope to take advantage of camlipixant’s greater selectivity which is less likely to lead to taste disturbance. In Bellus’ Phase 2b trial, taste alteration only occurred in 6.5% of patients, compared to 58% and 59% in Merck’s two Phase 3 studies.  

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