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 medicines 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 is now also pursuing one of the biggest drug-industry deals of the year.
AstraZeneca said Alexion will give it a greater scientific presence in immunology, with a rare-disease unit based in Boston. Directors of both companies have approved the acquisition, which they expect to close in the third quarter of 2021.
AstraZeneca has reinvented itself in recent years as a cancer-drug powerhouse. It had suffered years of shrinking revenue as blockbusters in its portfolio were hit by generic competition when patents expired.