India's Piramal Healthcare agreed Monday to buy a portfolio of medical imaging molecules from Germany's Bayer Pharma including an Alzheimer's diagnosis it says could yield $1.5 billion in revenue.
The deal, for an undisclosed sum, brings Piramal, long known for its generic drugs business, closer to building a lucrative brand-name pharmaceutical business.
The Alzheimer's molecule, florbetaben, is in late stage Phase III clinical trials. Piramal hopes to submit it to U.S. regulators for approval by year's end.
The company said florbetaben could earn $1.5 billion in revenue.
"The new way forward will be when we can launch patent protected products in the global market," chairman Ajay Piramal told reporters.
Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia and by 2050, there could be as many as 100 million Alzheimer's sufferers worldwide, the company said. There is no known cure.
Florbetaben does not treat the disease, but it could help in diagnosis. The molecule binds to beta-Amyloid plaques in the brain, which are a diagnostic hallmark of Alzheimer's, and can be visualized in living patients using imaging technology. Previously, definitive diagnosis was only possible through post-mortem autopsy.
New treatments are aimed at targeting those plaques, and florbetaben could also be helpful in their development, the company said.
The group will create a new subsidiary, Piramal Imaging, to focus on developing the new portfolio. Core members of Bayer's research team will join the new subsidiary.
In 2011, Piramal acquired BioSyntech, a cartilage repair agent, which recently received approval for commercial sale in Europe.
Piramal's healthcare business sold its mainstay generic drug business to U.S. pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories for $3.8 billion in May 2010. Piramal has been under pressure ever since to clarify for investors how it plans to reinvent itself and reinvest that money profitably.
The deal shows how the old lines which once separated Indian generic drug powerhouses from branded global pharmaceutical giants are breaking down. It comes as foreign drug makers complain that India's patent protections aren't strong enough.
In March, India effectively ended Bayer's monopoly on a patented cancer drug, licensing a much cheaper generic under a law aimed at keeping costs affordable.
Piramal Healthcare stock rose as much as 2.6 percent Monday, before closing down 1.5 percent in an otherwise flat market in Mumbai.