Covid-19 vaccine: AstraZeneca has ‘approached Gilead over possible merger’

AstraZeneca has approached rival pharmaceuticals company Gilead Sciences about a potential merger, Bloomberg News reported on Sunday.

Any merger – which would be the biggest healthcare deal on record – would bring together two of the companies leading the drug industry’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

A combination of the two would be valued at about £200bn. AstraZeneca, valued at £110bn, recently overtook Royal Dutch Shell to become the UK’s largest company by market value. Gilead was valued at about $96bn (£74bn) at Friday night’s closing price.

AstraZeneca contacted Gilead last month and it did not provide the terms of any transaction, the report said.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca said the company did comment on rumours or speculation. Gilead did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gilead, AstraZeneca and several other drugmakers, including Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Merck, are racing to develop vaccines or treatments for Covid-19.

More than 6.9 million people are reported to have been infected with the coronavirus globally and 399,025 have died, a Reuters tally showed on Sunday.

While Gilead had discussed the merger idea with advisers, no decision had been made on how to proceed, and the companies were not in formal talks, the report said. Gilead was not interested in selling to or merging with another big pharmaceutical company, and prefered to focus on partnerships and smaller acquisitions.

AstraZeneca last week said it had doubled manufacturing capacity for its potential coronavirus vaccine to 2bn doses in two deals involving Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates that guaranteed early supply to lower income countries.

It is unclear if a vaccine will work, but AstraZeneca’s partnership with Oxford University to develop one is among a handful of initiatives backed by Donald Trump’s Covid task force.

Gilead has also been at the forefront. Its remdesivir antiviral drug is the first to lead to improvement in Covid-19 patients in formal clinical trials.

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