updated 12/21/2003 3:20:17 PM ET 2003-12-21T20:20:17

Pfizer Inc. has agreed to buy biopharmaceutical company Esperion Therapeutics Inc. and is promising a new approach to reversing artery clogging, the companies announced Sunday.

Under the deal, Pfizer plans to acquire Esperion for $35 per share, or about $1.3 billion. That represents a 54 percent premium over Esperion's average closing share price during the past 20 trading days. Esperion shares closed at $22.70 Friday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Esperion, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., was created solely to develop HDL — or "good cholesterol" — therapies for treating cardiovascular disease.

Esperion gained national attention in November when a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the company's synthetic version of HDL to be remarkably effective in reducing plaque, the fatty buildups in the arteries that cause heart attacks.

The company, founded by several scientists who helped develop Pfizer's best-selling cholesterol drug, Lipitor, is working on therapies to be used by hospitals on patients who have already had heart attacks and other severe cardiac problems.

"By acquiring Esperion, we can bring our research capabilities to bear on an emerging new area which has potentially significant beneficial impact on patients," Hank McKinnell, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "Epidemiologic data and drug intervention trials both support a strong correlation between higher HDL levels and improvements in morbidity and mortality."

Esperion has four product candidates that are variations on HDL therapies, but does not yet have actual products.

"The acquisition will enable us to utilize Pfizer's skills and apply the resources necessary to develop our pipeline of compounds to benefit patients with atherosclerosis," said Roger Newton, Esperion's president and chief executive.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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