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AstraZeneca buys oncology-focused Spirogen for up to $440 million

LONDON (Reuters) - British drugmaker AstraZeneca said on Tuesday its MedImmune unit would buy biotech company Spirogen for up to $440 million to bolster its research and development pipeline in oncology.

Privately held Spirogen focuses on antibody-drug conjugate technology, which has the potential to directly target cancer tumors while safeguarding healthy cells, AstraZeneca said.

AstraZeneca said it would pay an initial $200 million plus a further $240 million if Spirogen meets development targets.

It will also pay $20 million to take an equity investment in Swiss-based ADC Therapeutics, which has a licensing agreement with Spirogen.

"The cutting-edge technologies developed by Spirogen and ADC Therapeutics complement MedImmune's innovative antibody engineering capabilities, enabling us to accelerate antibody-drug conjugates into the clinic," said MedImmune Executive Vice President Bahija Jallal.

Oncology treatments, both traditional "small cell" pills and injectable biologics, has been prioritized as a research area by AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot, who used to head Roche's Genentech biotech unit.

MedImmume, the U.S. biotech business that AstraZeneca bought in 2007 for $15.6 billion, is key to the strategy.

The unit is focused on two key areas in oncology development: antibody-drug conjugates and immune-mediated cancer therapy, which aims to harness the power of the patient's own immune system to fight cancer.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Kate Holton and David Cowell)

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