(Bloomberg) — An overlooked drug bought by a biotech company for a mere $6.6 million a decade ago could become one of the biggest selling cancer treatments ever.
Those high expectations have its maker, Pharmacyclics Inc., considering selling itself in a deal that could be worth as much as $18 billion.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has attracted interest from companies including Johnson & Johnson and Novartis A.G., Bloomberg reported Wednesday. Cancer is one of the most lucrative areas of drug development, and Imbruvica is an easy-to-use pill that costs around $100,000 a year, avoids certain serious side effects of chemotherapy, and patients can stay on it for long periods of time.
See also: Your money or your life: Brand-name drug prices.
The drug has also made a billionaire of Chief Executive Officer Robert W. Duggan. Duggan owns 13.5 million shares, or 18 percent, of Pharmacyclics. The stock constitutes the bulk of his $3.2 billion net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He amassed most of the shares at a cost of $42 million between 2004 and 2011, when he used his holdings to take a board seat and eventually control of the company.
The drug is projected to join the ranks of other top-selling oncology drugs, with $4.2 billion in estimated sales in 2019, according to an average of estimates by analysts.
See also: Exchange plans skimp on blood cancer coverage.
Imbruvica “certainly has the potential of Gleevec-like revenue,” said Brian Druker, director of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, referring to Novartis AG’s $4.75 billion drug for chronic myeloid leukemia. “It’s a big deal and the responses have been impressive” in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, one of its main uses.
While the drug is now approved for both mantle cell lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, at the time its promise wasn’t obvious, said Druker.
“There was no slam dunk there,” said Druker. “It was risk taking and vision and believing in something and getting into patients and seeing what happens.”