Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deals of the Year Nominee: Infinity & Purdue/Mundipharma

Ah, awards season. Why should film critics have all the fun? And voting! It's not just for presidential elections. This year your IN VIVO Blog team is nominating a handful of alliances, acquisitions, financings, regulatory negotiations and legislative compromises in our First Annual DOTY competition. And then you, dear readers, will vote (early and often, we hope) for the winner. Imaginary federal and international biopharmaceutical statutes prohibit us from awarding a monetary prize. But our winners, when they die, on their deathbeds, they will receive total consciousness. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.

Absent irrationally exuberant markets or dilution-friendly capital structures like the R&D Limited Partnerships and SWORDS of the 1980s, it’s virtually impossible to build a self-sustaining biotech without a Big Brother, contends Infinity CEO Steve Holtzman.

There’s thus a certain satisfying continuity in the fact that just a few months after Roche decided to end the most successful Big Brother relationship in pharmaceutical history by bidding to buy out Genentech, Infinity signed the latest incarnation of that legendary idea: a tie-up with the two Sackler-family owned private companies, US-focused Purdue Pharma and European-focused Mundipharma (see the transaction record here and our “Pink Sheet Daily” write-up here).

In return for what could be nearly 38% of its stock and the vast majority – ex-US – of its pipeline, Infinity bought probably five years of freedom from worrying about Wall Street -- enough money for both its discovery and clinical programs -- while retaining, like Genentech, the entire US market in which to create a commercial presence.

The most advanced compound in this enterprise: Infinity’s Phase I hedgehog cell-signaling pathway inhibitor, originally developed in a deal with MedImmune, then returned following MedImmune’s acquisition by AstraZeneca, which was developing a competing hedgehog program. (A few weeks after it signed the Purdue/Mundipharma deal, Infinity improved its position even more by bringing back from AZ its latest stage program, the Phase III injectable HSP-90 inhibitor IPI-504, as well as that drug’s younger brother, a Phase I oral compound, IPI-493 – drugs to which Infinity now owns all rights.)

But we don’t expect this deal to be much copied. The spec-pharmas Purdue and Mundipharma have no discovery programs to protect and Mundipharma has only a single cancer product in its portfolio: there should be no significant jealousies from internal R&D; no desire to interfere. Indeed, the deal is specifically not a collaboration, Infinity CSO Julian Adams points out: as Genentech has been with Roche, Infinity will remain a completely separate operation from its new affiliate.

That’s a rare situation for most companies that can afford a deal of this size (up to $75 million in equity by early 2009; another $200-400 million in R&D support; and a potential $72.5 - $100 million in warranty conversions). Indeed, one reason Roche is buying out Genentech is because it feels it can now do pretty much what Genentech can do – so why pay the royalties and other costs of maintaining an independent R&D and commercial infrastructure? Moreover, the Sacklers have no need to show investors regular profit growth – at Purdue and Mundipharma, they’re the only investors that matter, and they’d prefer the tax breaks from the R&D expense to a nicely upward sloping EPS line.

That’s because the Sacklers know Purdue is living on borrowed time. It was granted an almost magical but limited-term respite from generic attack after first losing exclusivity on its most important product, Oxycontin, and then regaining it in an utterly unexpected judicial reversal of the original ruling (See an in-depth “Pink Sheet” review here). But the drug will go generic again – no later, and possibly earlier, than 2013, just in time for the first of its Infinity products to hit the market.

So who else -- absent a Big Pharma's sudden and shocking conversion -- could do deals like this? Other private companies (or companies who act like them) – in particular mid-sized European firms and maybe even a Japanese company or two. They’d certainly accept the regional aspects of this deal and – unlike the Big Pharmas – wouldn’t necessarily feel the urge to tell Little Sib how to do its job.

Big Brother, Little Sister by Flickr user Onion and used under a creative commons license.


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