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) --London biopharmaceutical conglomerate


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said Monday it agreed to acquire venture capital-backed cancer drug research company


for up to $500 million.

Amplimmune becomes the second cancer drug developer to be acquired in less than 24 hours. On Sunday


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, agreed to buy

Onyx Pharmaceuticals


for $10.4 billion. AstraZeneca had been mentioned as a possible bidder for Onyx after the target received a $10 billion unsolicited bid from Amgen in June and put itself on the auction block.

Under financial terms of the Amplimmune acquisition, AstraZeneca will pay $225 million upfront and up to another $275 million in earnouts if the target hits certain milestones.

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Amplimmune's main AMP-514 cancer therapy drug candidate is currently in pre-clinical stages and the Gaithersburg, Md.-based company, founded in 2007, expects to take the drug candidate to clinical trials by year's end.

InterWest Partners


Wellcome Trust

are Amplimmune backers. The two firms collectively invested about $20 million in Amplimmune in 2007.

"Both companies are passionate about developing new cancer therapies for patients and are excited about the potential of immunotherapies," said Amplimmune CEO Michael Richman in a statement.

AstraZeneca will make the acquisition through its MedImmune subsidiary.

The Amplimmune deal is the latest in what has been an active M&A year for AstraZeneca as it looks to restock its drug pipeline that has been hurt by upcoming expiring patents, including one for its Nexium heartburn medicine, which is set to expire in mid 2014.

In June, AstraZeneca acquired pulmonary disease treatment firm

Pearl Therapeutics

for up to $1.15 billion. One month earlier, it paid $443 million for

Omthera Pharmaceuticals

, a blood disease researcher.

The Amplimmune transaction is expected to close by the end of the third quarter, pending regulatory approval.

AstraZeneca shares traded 10 cents lower, to $50.58, on Monday afternoon with its market capitalization near $63 billion.

Neither AstraZeneca nor Amplimmune returned calls on Monday.


Written by Demitri Diakantonis in New York