Friday, January 25, 2008

Deals of the Week: Beyond Vytoringate

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! It sure seems that way this January Friday morning. Global markets slid early in the week thanks to a certain R-word and its association with the US economy. Meanwhile, in pharma land the brouhaha over Vytorin data--or lack thereof--has officially morphed into a scandal, with the addition of the "gate" suffix. (Take our poll!)

As of Thursday, both houses of Congress had initiated investigations, pressing Merck and Schering-Plough for information on the timing of executive stock sales in the wake of the delayed release of results from the so-called ENHANCE trial. Adding to the bad news, comes this New York Times report, which draws the American Heart Association--remember, the group came to the defense of Vytorin just last week--into the scandal thanks to financial ties to both companies.

In the wake of such scrutiny, it's not surprising that Vytorin prescriptions have fallen. Any doubt that these two pharmas have a serious image problem should be erased by this spoof from YouTube, where the omniscient narrator voices, "Nobody knows if Vytorin is safe or effective, but with enough scientific fraud, we can sure make it look like it is."

2008 is off to a great start. Thank goodness for Deals of the Week, where we promise not to mention Vytorin, Merck, or Schering Plough again--at least in this edition.

Teva/Cogenesys: On Tuesday, the Israeli generic drugs company announced it's acquisition of Cogenesys, the albumin fusion technology play spun out of Human Genome Sciences in 2006, for $400 million. Yet again, proof of a trend we've detailed several times: pharmaceutical firms continue to bulk up their large molecule capabilities. But for generics giant Teva, this deal is as much about deepening its stake in the ill-defined, yet surely valuable, follow-on biologics arena as is it about biologics capabilities per se. And that got us thinking. How much different is this deal, really, than Glaxo's take-out of Domantis, BMS's buy-out of Adnexus, or Wyeth's acquisition of Haptogen? Pharma's made a tremendous amount of money on next-generation (or me-too) small molecules. Stands to reason that as these firms jump into biologics, this might be just the space to play in--after all, new technologies allow the pharmas the opportunity to create IP-protected versions of existing large molecules that have largely been derisked. (Note: It's probably a good thing for Cogenesys that Teva inked the deal Tuesday not Wednesday. On Wednesday came news that HGS's own albumin-fusion protein, Albuferon for the treatment of Hepatitis C, may have adverse lung-related side-effects when dosed at the 1200 microgram level. HGS says it will shift patients in the Phase III trial to a 900 microgram dose biweekly and still expects to have late-stage data on the drug by spring 2009, with a marketing application to follow later that year.)

Roche/Ventana: Requited love--isn't it romantic? On Tuesday,came the news that after attempting to pledge its troth five times--and upping its share price to $89.50--Roche finally won Ventana's hand. We advised Ventana to take the outsized $75-a-share price late last summer, as $3 billion for a company with no near-term products seemed an outrageous return. Looks like we were wrong. That extra few months of wrangling won Ventana shareholders an extra $400 million in value, with the purchase price coming very close to the $90-per-share target Ventana CEO Gleeson had been gunning for all along. But even this happy news hasn't quelled the on-going rumor-mill. Forbes is reporting that although Ventana’s board has approved the deal it was over the objections of Chairman Jack Schuler and Vice Chairman John Patience. Neither have agreed to sell their shares to Roche. That’s 12% against the deal. Larry Feinberg, manager of the $1 billion Oracle Partners hedge fund owns another 8% of Ventana’s stock. He started buying in 1999 and tells Forbes: “My strategy has been to go along with those guys.”

Estee Lauder/Allergan: Last week the self-help guide "How Not to Look Old” made its debut on the New York Times best-seller list at No. 8 in the advice and how-to category, proof that the quest for eternal youth remains a constant in our society. This week comes news that Estee Lauder Cos' Clinique Laboratories is teaming up with Allergan to develop and market a new up-scale skin care line that will only be available from physicians. The new line will be priced at a premium compared to both Clinique's retail products and Allergan's physican dispensed offerings, which include Prevage MD and Forte. "The big idea here was: How do we become a leader in skin care?" says Allergan's CEO David Pyott. Allergan, is of course, the company that brought the world Botox, and has been a leader in showing the world how lucrative it can be to blend cosmetics with aesthetic medicine.

Forest/Novexel: Forest Laboratories plans to shell out $109.5 million in up-front fees to license North American rights to Novexel's preclinical intravenous beta-lactamase inhibitor, NXL104, which is being developed in combination with Forest's ceftaroline. (For those who don't remember, Forest acquired that product as a result of its 2006 acquisition of Cerexa.) If development work bears fruit--the combination is scheduled to enter the clinic in 2009--Forest will owe an additional $109.5 million. In addition, Forest also won first negotiation rights on another combination antibiotic--NXL104 plus ceftazidime, another cephalosporin with a slightly different activity spectrum compared to ceftaroline. This is the seventh major in-licensing deal for Forest in the last two years. While other pharmas have looked to biologics and other novel technologies to rejuvenate their pipelines, Forest is proving it has the know-how to license and succeed with primary care products, from anti-infectives to hypertension medicines such as Daiichi Sankyo's Azor to irritable bowel syndrom drugs such as Microbia's linaclotide. In other words, this spec pharma is proving it can succeed in big pharma's sandbox. For more on Forest's efforts in the primary care space check out this article from the December issue of The RPM Report.

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