Friday, February 01, 2008

Deals of the Week: Deal--or No Deal

The debate over Vytorin's medical benefits and, by extension, the utility of all cholesterol meds, continues to rage. Meantime, the Zyprexa marketing scandal reared its head: new this week, the NY Times reports Lilly is in talks with federal prosecutors to settle investigations into its marketing of the antipsychotic. If an agreement is reached, it could cost the pharma $1 billion, the largest fine ever paid by a drugmaker for breaking federal laws governing a medicine's promotion.

And, it was earnings week, with fourth quarter reports from Wyeth (up, but flat forecast for '08 due to generic Protonix), AZ (down), BMS (down, and WSJ's Health Blog highlights concerns that this big pharma may be affected by the sub-prime mess), Novo Nordisk (down, but did beat analysts' expectations sending the stock up), and Merck (down, thanks to Vioxx settlements) among others.

All in all, a crazy week, but not necessarily on the deal-making front. That's prompted this IN VIVO blogger to ponder the deals that happened--and those that did not. Without further ado, the Deal or No Deal edition.

First, a look at the actual deals that got done...

Inverness/Matria: On Monday Inverness announced its third major acquisition in the health management space, buying Georgia-based Matria for $900 million and the assumption of $280 million in debt. Definitely the big money deal of the week, though Wall Street reacted negatively to the news. Inverness continues to build through acquisition: the Matria deal is its twelfth in the past 12 months. (For more on Inverness's acquisition strategy, click here.) The company's recent emphasis on health management suggests another trend we've been following: the expansion of the diagnostic business model to include services not exclusively related to in vitro tests or reagents. Such business activity has muddied the waters stretching the definition of what it means to be a diagnostic company.

Sepracor/Nycomed: A few weeks ago when Nycomed got FDA approval for its inhaled corticosteroid ciclesonide we figured Sanofi-aventis, the original partner of Altana (bought by Nycomed in '06), still had US rights to the drug--we hadn't heard otherwise, after all. So we were a little surprised on Monday when Sepracor picked up rights to the drug (Alvesco) for $150 million upfront plus various development and sales milestones. Nycomed will also receive payments for manufacturing and royalties on sales. Alvesco's route to the US market has been chock-full of speed bumps. Way back in 2002 Altana suggested the drug might be approved in 2003, but an NDA wasn't filed until December 2003. Altana and Aventis received an approvable letter in October 2004 and the drug was launched in 2005 in Europe.

Iroko Pharmaceuticals/ Merck: Specialty pharma Iroko inked a deal with Merck for non-US commercial rights to Aggrastat, a drug used alongside heparin in patients with unstable angina to prevent cardiac ischemic events. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. This is the third product Merck has out-licensed to Iroko and the second in the beleaguered cardiovascular space. Last spring the company acquired rights to Indocin, for rheumatoid arthritis, and Aldomet, a hypertension treatment, from the big pharma. As we reported here, the independent futures of many spec pharmas are in question, as product-poor pharmas gobble them up in hopes of fattening their pipelines. Still, primary care remains a popular space for many, especially as big pharma eschews risky products in the cardiovascular and metabolic disease space.

(Clearly someone forgot the briefcase models.)

BiogenIdec/Genmab: Perhaps we should say "No deal, yet." This week BiogenIdec was once again in the news thanks to manueuvers by Carl Icahn to install three supporters onto the company's board. Also swirling in the ether, rumors that BiogenIdec intends to buy Genmab. Certainly, such a deal would scupper any attempts by Icahn to sell the company to another entity. Adding Genmab's pipeline would go a long way to securing an independent future for the Cambridge, MA-based biotech. But such a deal won't come cheap. In part, because it seems likely that GSK might up the ante. The British pharma, after all, has three partnerships with Genmab, including a very rich co-development, co-promotion deal for the biotech's HuMax-CD20, an antibody to treat cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Until now, GSK's had no real reason to bring Genmab in-house--it's already got rights to the antibody cow's milk, after all. But it may not be willing to stomach the risk associated with a change in Genmab ownership, deciding its worth the hefty price tag to nail down its rights to its partnered products.

Lilly/Gastrotech: Deal or No Deal? Here's an odd one for you. On Jan 28, Denmark’s Gastrotech Pharma announced it was in-licensing Lilly’s GLP-1 analog GTP 010 for IBS and functional dyspepsia. That’s a deal, not a non-deal, surely? Well, depends on how you look at it. Simply turn it over and you get….a non-opt-in by Lilly.

Lilly and Gastrotech had been collaborating on GTP 010 since 2004, when Gastrotech took over Phase II trials of this Lilly compound in IBS and dyspepsia (in part thanks to the biotech’s ownership of some use patents for GLP-1 analogs in IBS, according to chairman Hans Schambye, though no, that wasn’t mentioned in the release).

That—four years ago--was arguably the real licensing deal. And that was also when Lilly received an option to later take over development and commercialization of the compound in return for milestones and royalties.

This week's news is that Lilly didn’t take that option, which means Gastrotech gets to keep the compound, instead, paying Lilly royalties. “Sure,” Schambye acknowledged to IN VIVO Blog, “you could look at it both ways. Either party could have licensed the drug.”

See? Hmm, exactly. Now ok, we know that small biotechs need all the positive spin they can get, but we're getting pretty close to "Press Release of the Week" territory here. Perhaps Gastrotech will do something big with 010, who knows (Lilly did take an equity stake). But please, a bit of clarity and objectivity wouldn’t go amiss.

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