2008 is drawing to a close. Today marks the year's final "Deals of the Week" post. As this blogger takes time to reflect on the pre-holiday deal-making activity, it's no surprise that all of the deals in today's recap reflect broader themes at work in the biopharma industry. From Big Pharma's penchant for specialty products to highly structured alliances that allow both parties to share the financial risk (and gain), these deals mirror past DOTW discussions, as well as the larger themes highlighted in our various Deals Of The Year posts. DOTY voting commences on Monday. Remember to vote early and often. Until then, we hope you enjoy this week's variations on a theme. (Bach is optional.)
Wyeth/Thiakis: This deal, which sees Wyeth acquiring London-based Thiakis’ obesity candidates, could best be described by a made-up word: alli-quisition (hey, you want real words, read a book). Wyeth pays $30 million up-front for Thiakis and its portfolio of synthetic gastrointestinal peptides and up to $120 million in earnouts tagged to downstream milestones. Our Pink Sheet DAILY in-depth coverage of the deal is here. Thiakis’ backers secure an exit—the biotech had raised about $19 million from private investors Novo and Advent Venture Partners—but without some of those milestone payments it’s not a particularly good one. Expect these kind of earn-out based deals to become more prominent as we move into 2009. With Big Pharma content to sit on the sidelines and wait while prices for biotech companies fall, most investors surveyed recently by FDC-Windhover believe future M&A activity is likely to place a premium on hedging risk. Earn-outs haven’t featured in a ton of deals lately—in fact thus far in 2008, just 20 percent of all private acquisitions have included earn-outs, down from a high in 2006 of nearly 43 percent of all private deals. (Read all about it in our next issue of START-UP.) Back to Wyeth: the pharma gets Thiakis' lead project, TKS1225, a potent, long-acting analogue of oxyntomodulin, which is a naturally occurring peptide hormone involved in regulating food intake. The hormone is released by the gut following food ingestion, sending satiety signals to the brain. It is thought to work through the GLP-1 receptor and does not cross the blood brain barrier, an important consideration given the suicidality risks associated with another class of obesity treatments, the CB-1 antagonists--Christopher Morrison.
AstraZeneca/MAP Pharmaceuticals: Another day, another deal heavily weighted on the back end. On Friday Dec. 18, AstraZeneca and MAP Pharmaceuticals announced a worldwide collaboration to develop and commercialize MAP's proprietary nebulized formulation of budesonide, currently in Phase III development, for treatment of pediatric asthma. While the biodollars sounded huge--"AZ, MAP ink $900 million asthma deal" read one write-up of the transaction--the reality is far less glorious. Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca will pay MAP Pharmaceuticals an upfront cash payment of just $40 million (certainly not bad). True, the company owes MAP another $35 million if the ongoing Phase III trial reaches certain primary endpoints with the appropriate safety results. And, it's also true that at some point in the future, MAP could receive up to $240 million in potential development and regulatory milestones, as well as sales performace-related milestones of up to $585 million in the event the product is a considerable commercial success. Don't get me wrong--$40 million is a sizeable chunk of non-dilutive change and kudos to MAP for getting the deal signed at all. But the other $860 million? It may never well materialize--and MAP and its investors would do well to remember that. (NOTE: MAP wasn't the only potential winner in this deal: Elan Pharmaceuticals may also get a welcome boost. MAP's proprietary formulation of budesonide comes courtesy of Elan's nanocrystal technology. )
Merck/Dynavax: It's official. Merck and Dynavax announced Friday Dec. 18 that they were tabling their agreement concerning Heplisav, a Phase 3 hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine placed on clinical hold at the FDA earlier this year after a sgnificant adverse side-effect occurred. All rights to develop and commercialize Heplisav revert to Dynavax. According to the press release, Dynavax will continue to evaluate Heplisav's development options, especially as a treatment for adults outside the U.S. and for the global end-stage renal disease markets, which the company estimates represent approximately 70% of the total market opportunity for this vaccine. If the regulatory feedback is favorable, Dynavax plans to line up a new partner or financing arrangement to support necessary clinical work with the drug. It will be interesting to see how regulators outside the U.S. view the drug. Back in October, the FDA notified Merck and Dynavax that "the balance of risk versus potential benefit no longer favors continued clinical evaluation of Heplisav in healthy adults and children." Though Dynavax is putting on a brave face--it wins our award for the little biotech engine that could--there's no denying the company faces some tough choices in the months ahead. With limited cash resources--just $65 million including the recent up-front from GSK and '08 operating expenses for the first three quarters totalling over $50 million--it's hard to see how the company will be able to push Heplisav to the point where it is sufficiently derisked for potential future partners.