West Coast Editor

Vicuron Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s stock value skyrocketed on news that the firm has become the latest takeover target for Pfizer Inc., which made public its plan to buy the company for $29.10 per share, or about $1.9 billion - a 74-whopping-percent premium over the firm's 90-day average closing price and 21 percent higher than the highest historical closing price.

Shares (NASDAQ:MICU) of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Vicuron ended Thursday at $28.21, up $12.41, or 78.5 percent.

"We had pegged it as a takeover candidate, but we always thought Gilead would come in," said Edward Nash, analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker in New York, noting that Gilead Sciences Inc., of Foster City, Calif., needs more for its pipeline.

Pfizer might have paid top price for Vicuron because they "felt a lot of people circling," possibly including Gilead, although neither Gilead nor Pfizer had said they were in merger talks, and "they both kept pretty good poker faces if they were," Nash said.

The Pfizer-Vicuron deal, expected to close in the third quarter, provides Pfizer with two products with new drug applications under review: anidulafungin, the once-daily drug for fungal infections, and dalbavancin, for Gram-positive infections, which is dosed once per week. Vicuron earlier this year reported positive Phase III results with anidulafungin compared with fluconazole in invasive candidiasis/candidemia. Priority review for dalbavancin, recently extended for three months, is due to be completed by Sept. 21. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 8, 2005.)

Gilead's overseas partner for the antifungal AmBisome (amphotericin B), Astellas Pharma Inc. (formerly Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.) - which also has Mycamine (micafungin) for esophageal candidiasis - probably "would not have been thrilled" about a takeover of Vicuron, Nash said, and Pfizer's bid allows the pharmaceutical giant to enter a new therapeutic area. Nash had expected the acquisition price to be "something in the neighborhood of $1.3 to $1.5 billion" - which might be a more Gilead-sized amount.

New York-based Pfizer, of course, can beat most offers. "It's a nice angle to be coming from, and they've announced they want to be extremely aggressive in acquisitions," Nash said. "Eventually they'll get a couple of blockbusters and they'll be set."

Pfizer made it known in February its bid to snatch up San Diego-based Idun Pharmaceuticals Inc. for an undisclosed amount, one month after entering an agreement to pay up to $527 million for Angiosyn Inc., of La Jolla, Calif. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 25, 2005, and Feb. 25, 2005.)

Who might be next? Telik Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., "would be a great one" for Pfizer, Nash told BioWorld Today. Telik's Phase III drug Telcyta is the first in a new class of cancer cell-activated chemotherapeutics designed to exploit the overexpression of glutathione S-transferase P1-1, an enzyme overexpressed in many cancer cells. High levels are associated with a poor prognosis and resistance to certain chemotherapeutics.

"Maybe now [Pfizer] will turn to Telik," he said, although any would-be buyers might want to hold off until more Telcyta trial data are disclosed. Results from as many as three Phase III trials are expected in the fourth quarter.

"If they wait, they're going to have to pay up a little more, but they'll have a lot more risk taken off the table," Nash said.

The deal for Vicuron follows a spate of non-Pfizer acquisitions lately, including Basingstoke, UK-based Shire Pharmaceuticals Group plc's $1.6 billion buyout of Transkaryotic Therapies Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc.'s $245 million takeover of Alameda, Calif.-based Peninsula Pharmaceutical Inc., both in April. (See BioWorld Today, April 20, 2005, and April 22, 2005.)

Whether Pfizer makes a move on Telik or not, the company is likely to be "the next sizable [acquisition]," Nash said, although "it's hard to say who's going to be a takeout and who's going to be a partnership. Everything is up for grabs."