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Friday, May 21, 2010

DotW: Wishful Thinking


The biotech M&A storm is coming. Really. So sayeth the good attorneys at the UK patent firm Marks & Clerk, based on survey data of 381 pharmaceutical execs who predict industry consolidation as various players attempt to hurdle the looming patent cliff.

Added to IN VIVO Blog’s To-Do List: Call Marks & Clerk to determine where to purchase the rose-colored glasses apparently so in fashion.

We admire the glass-half-full sentimentality. It’s cheaper than Prozac or Paxil (though purchasing either would help sales at certain pharmas). We’re just a bit skeptical that the patent cliff will translate into a big-pharma buying spree of innovative biotechs. Here's why: For starters, the big acquisitions of 2010 have mainly been about diversification, marketed products, generics, emerging markets or some combination thereof. Innovative pipeline material? Not so much. Big pharmas want revenue.

According to Elsevier’s Strategic Transactions database, the top deals of 2010 have been Merck’s acquisition of Millipore, Teva’s purchase of ratiopharma, Astellas’ flight into oncology with OSI, and Charles River’s take-out of WuXi. Of these, only the Astellas/OSI transaction fits the patent-cliff theory, in which a drug maker pays top dollar for a biotech to replace revenues lost to looming--or current--generic competition. And companies like OSI, with money-making products far from patent expiry, remain a relative rarity, which as we’ve pointed out in our reporting, is one reason that biotech’s price tag climbed as high as it did.

We’ve said it before. On the private side, companies can’t rely on the stalking horse of IPOs to force pharmas into acquisitions; M&A--when it happens-- will likely to be in the guise of earn-out heavy deals, with eye-popping returns (think >5X when all the milestones are factored in) for the future. (Want data? See here and here.)

Other forces are lined up to stifle the oft-predicted M&A storm. On the public side, many smaller biotechs are still struggling to attract investor love. (Will ASCO help?) For European companies, the debt crisis isn't going to help. With biotechs’ stock prices trending down, there’s simply not much pressure for Big Pharm to get involved in pricy bidding wars. Moreover, big pharma buyers are burdened with infrastructure and more early stage programs than they can afford to develop, suggesting that when they do bring programs in it will be via alliances not acquisitions.

Does IN VIVO Blog think there will be some M&A? Absolutely--and if there isn't, this column will get awfully lonely. But are we talking Perfect Storm? Boom Times? That smacks of wishful thinking. Any doubt? Take a look at this week’s round-up of deals, which emphasize R&D on the cheap, EMs, and branded generics.

Astellas/OSI: Japanese drug maker Astellas' pursuit of OSI Pharmaceuticals was rewarded on May 17, 2010 with a $4 billion merger agreement supported by both companies' boards. At $57.50 per share, the deal cost $500 million more than the original hostile bid that Astellas launched in late February, and it will consume roughly half of the drugmaker's available cash. It seems no other white-knight bid emerged to counter Astellas' hostile offer, which turned semi-friendly at the end of March. Astellas, meanwhile, had made OSI the linchpin of its strategy to become a global oncology player. To walk away empty-handed would have raised serious questions about Astellas management, especially in the wake of its previous hostile bid, an unsuccessful run at CV Therapeutics. The newly sweetened price is a 55% premium to OSI's stock price on February 26, 2010, the day before the Japanese firm publicly disclosed its $52-a-share hostile offer for the biotech. The price is also 50 cents more than the informal offer in the $55-to-$57 range that Astellas originally suggested in 2009, according to SEC filings. With its ability to do further big deals limited for now, Astellas must extract full value from both Tarceva and OSI's earlier stage molecules. The key will be retaining and integrating OSI's management team into Astellas' U.S. operations.—Ellen Foster Licking

Abbott/Piramal: Rumors have been circulating for weeks that Piramal, one of India's leading biopharma players, was up for sale. There was quite a bit of truth to the rumor mill, except the buyer wasn't one of the usual suspects: GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, or Pfizer. The ultimate winner was Abbott, which also made waves with last week's collaboration with Zydus Cadila and the creation of its established product unit. Abbott says the deal gives it the numero uno position (in Hindi, that's nambara ─ôka) with 7% market share in the Indian pharmaceutical market. It doesn't come cheap. Abbott will pay a total of $3.7 billion for Piramal, but not all is upfront cash. Piramal gets an initial payment of $2.12 billion and then $400 million annually for the next four years starting in 2011. (A hedge, perhaps, to mitigate the snafus Daiichi Sankyo has encountered with Ranbaxy?) Structured this way, Abbott says the all-cash transaction will not impact its ongoing earnings per share guidance. The strategy behind Abbott's deal is obvious and one familiar to IN VIVO Blog readers. Indeed, it can be summed up in three catch phrases: diversification, branded generics, and emerging markets. --EFL

Pfizer/Washington University: The R&D belt continues to tighten, and nervous companies ask more loudly how best to cheaply and efficiently identify innovative medicines? What about academia? What about new uses for existing medicines? Why not combine the two? This week Pfizer announced a five-year collaboration worth $22.5 million with Washington University in St. Louis in what is essentially a re-profiling experiment of 500 compounds originated at Pfizer. Don Frail, the chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s Indications Discovery Unit and the brains behind the deal, said the partnership could result in the university participating in clinical trials and holding downstream financial rights to drug candidates. Pfizer, meanwhile, can tap the thinking of a different group of researchers, and it won't spend an additional dime (beyond the $22.5 million) developing idle programs. Indeed, just one moderately successful product from the tie-up could cover Pfizer’s investment many times over. Wash U researchers will submit proposals for studies of compounds to a joint advisory committee. Pfizer researchers will work with Wash U scientists, with the university owning rights to its discoveries and the ability to negotiate terms for their development and commercialization.--Joseph Haas and EFL

Quintiles/Kaiser Permanente: It's not the kind of deal we normally cover, but we were intrigued by a collaboration between a major CRO and a leading insurer/health provider. With a dearth of details in the press release, IN VIVO Blog is still intrigued. We thought perhaps this deal augured a future wave of partnerships, in which pharmaceutical companies—or their CROs—ally with groups to develop outcomes-based data to support the commercial prospects of drugs under development. While this may be one of the longer term outcomes of the project, for now the emphasis is on enhancing the quality and productivity of clinical research. As such, Kaiser’s Southern California Permanente Medical Group becomes Quintiles’ fourth global prime clinical research site, joining the University of Pretoria in South Africa, Queen’s Mary College in the UK, and Washington D.C.'s Washington Hospital. Adam Chasse, Quintiles’ head of global prime sites, says the interests of both groups are mutually aligned since SCPMG wants to expand its clinical research efforts while the CRO hopes to tap the physician expertise within Kaiser--as well as its diverse patient base.--JH and EFL

Sanofi/Nepentes: Once again Sanofi-Aventis is expanding its consumer products business with a $130 million offer for the Polish drug, dietary supplement, and cosmetics firm, Nepentes Group. Sanofi announced May 19 it would pay approximately $8-a-share to Nepentes’ main shareholders and $8.60-a-share to minority shareholders in order to establish a presence in Europe’s fifth leading consumer health care product market. According to “The Tan Sheet," Sanofi believes it can boost Nepentes’ growth by extending distribution of its products, which include Selsun Blue, Melisana Klosterfrau supplements, and the Marimer line of nasal sprays, to additional markets. The Nepentes transaction marks the seventh consumer deal for Sanofi since CEO Chris Viehbacher outlined plans in February 2009 to double the drug maker’s OTC offerings in five years, primarily through bolt-on acquisitions. The most costly so far is Sanofi’s acquisition of Chattem for $1.9 billion. It’s all part of Sanofi’s larger strategy to diversify into arenas less risky than branded pharmaceuticals while simultaneously tapping those necessary "pharmemerging" markets.--Malcolm Spicer

Image courtesy of flickrer furiousgeorge81.


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