LONDON— AstraZeneca PLC said it agreed to buy Boston-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $39 billion in cash and stock, a move that would bolster the British drug giant’s footprint in rare diseases.
The deal comes at a pivotal time for AstraZeneca, which is in late-stage development of a leading Covid-19 vaccine developed in partnership with the University of Oxford. The vaccine is being reviewed by U.K. and European drug regulators, and could be authorized for emergency use in the U.K. within weeks, scientists involved in it have said.
The company has embarked on one of the most ambitious efforts to manufacture and distribute the vaccine among a handful of Western pharmaceutical giants, assuming it gets the green light for its shot. With the Alexion deal, it will also now be trying to orchestrate a giant corporate merger at the same time.
AstraZeneca said Alexion will give it a foothold in the lucrative field of rare-disease drugs and help fuel revenue and cash flow in the coming years. The bulk of Alexion’s $6 billion in annual sales comes from Soliris, which treats a rare blood disorder. It is among the most expensive drugs in the world.
AstraZeneca executives said the deal would help expand Alexion’s drug sales in new markets, particularly China. It would also improve profit margins by eliminating expenses over three years, by reducing infrastructure costs such as office space and distribution centers.