Speculation that English drug giant AstraZeneca might be interested in a deal with Groton-based biotech Amarin Corp. plc sent the Nasdaq-listed stock soaring over the $10 mark for a while Wednesday, before settling in slightly below that level, up 2.4 percent on the day.
Business Week quoted Tim Anderson, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York City, as saying that AstraZeneca stands ready to spend about $5 billion on acquisitions to boost its drug pipeline.
"Buying Amarin would give AstraZeneca potential revenue from a new heart medication that's close to gaining U.S. approval," according to the Business Week report.
AstraZeneca announced just last week the $1.26 billion purchase of Ardea Biosciences Inc., and officials at the time said more deals may be on the way.
"I would be disappointed if we didn't announce further deals by the end of this year," Martin Mackay, head of research and development for AstraZeneca and former research chief at Pfizer Inc., said in an interview with Bloomberg news service. "We've taken our hits, but we're turning a corner."
AstraZeneca faces major pipeline problems as several of its largest sellers, including Seroquel and Nexium, are going off patent within the next two years.
The losses would amount to a 40 percent cut in sales without some new drugs to take their place.
Shaun Grady, head of business development for AstraZeneca, has said the company wouldn't shy away from promising deals outside its current focus on cancer, diabetes and stomach ailments.
Amarin's lead medication, AMR101, has been effective in reducing fat in the blood of patients with high triglyceride levels while having no adverse effect on cholesterol levels.
The drug's main competitor is Lovaza, made by GlaxoSmithKline, which also has been mentioned as a potential partner for Amarin.
Pfizer, which has research facilities in Groton not far from Amarin's Bridge Street R&D headquarters, also has been seen as a possible buyer of the company. Speculation that Pfizer might be looking for takeover targets such as Amarin was fueled this week after it announced the sale of its nutritionals business to Nestle for nearly $12 billion.
"With Pfizer's significant cash infusion, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see the company join the ranks of acquiring companies on the move," noted the website SeekingAlpha.com.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to rule on whether to approve AMR101 for heart patients by no later than July.
Shares of Amarin jumped last week after JP Morgan Chase & Co. announced it had begun tracking the stock's performance and set a price target of $22.
The J.P. Morgan analysts said AMR101, a purified fish oil, would likely bring in $1 billion or more a year in sales.
"We ... see significant strategic value for the asset should Amarin seek to partner the product or sell itself," analysts said.