Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantPharma has acquired Igdrasol Inc., a division of San Diego biopharmaceutical firm Sorrento Therapeutics Inc., for up to $1.3 billion.

Igdrasol has been developing cancer therapy Cynviloq, which just generated positive results in a study comparing it to Abraxane, the drug developed by Abraxis Bioscience Inc., which Soon-Shiong sold to Celgene Corp. in 2010 for $2.9 billion.

The deal dictates that NantPharma will pay Sorrento more than $90 million in an up-front cash payment plus potentially more than $1.2 billion in regulatory and sales milestone payments.

“We are committing significant resources to the development of novel cancer therapies, including combination therapies, an area of significant unmet need,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement.

But health care analyst Raghuram Selvaraju of New York-based MLV & Co. thinks Soon-Shiong may have a broader agenda.

Selvaraju explained that Abraxane, currently an $800 million a year drug, is likely to hit $1 billion in sales this year. Soon-Shiong was entitled to certain milestone payments as part of his deal selling Abraxis to Celgene, and Selvaraju suggested the potential for future milestone payments beyond the $1 billion mark may be limited. He thinks Soon-Shiong may have acquired the drug in order to eventually strike a deal with Celgene to acquire Cynviloq and avoid eventual competition if it is approved.

“There is not a shred of doubt in my mind what kind of businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong is,” Selvaraju said. “He never does any deal unless he’s 99.9 percent sure he’ll get his money back. That’s why he’s a billionaire.”

NantPharma did not respond to requests for comment.

In terms of remaining regulatory hurdles, Selvaraju explained that NantPharma has to schedule a meeting with the Food and Drug Administration. If the F.D.A. agrees there is sufficient data to submit a new drug application, NantPharma will do so and await the final decision. If the firm can get a meeting with the FDA by September, Cynviloq could be approved in the U.S. by the middle of next year.

Soon-Shiong has been collaborating with Sorrento on a number of recent projects including a $110 million deal to develop cancer immunotherapies.

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