Friday, February 08, 2013

DOTW: Biogen Puts Offshore Cash to Work

When it comes to corporate tax planning, biopharmas as a group aren’t spectacularly sophisticated. (A few exceptions come to mind, most notably specialty pharma Valeant and Bristol Myers-Squibb, the latter of which upped its game and expects to drop its tax rate to 16% in 2013. That's down from 26% in 2011.)

It’s particularly hard for U.S. biopharmas to do much with offshore cash. That’s unless they buy something outside the U.S. or pay a high tax rate to bring cash into the U.S. Or they can opt to keep stockpiling cash ex-U.S. in hopes a cash- repatriation tax holiday is on the horizon, an unlikely scenario anytime soon given the ongoing fiscal standoff.

This week, Biogen Idec made a bold move by using offshore cash to acquire full rights to multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri (natalizumab) from its previously 50/50 partner Elan. The deal manages to turn cash sitting on its balance sheet, much of it offshore, almost immediately into a bump for EPS and cash flow - a neat trick. Deutsche Bank analyst Robyn Karnauskas upped her 2013 EPS estimate to $7.76 from $7.15 and her 2013 revenue estimate to $6.6 billion from $6.1 billion. She expects the new structure to be in place in the second quarter.

The deal includes a $3.25 billion upfront payment from Biogen to Ireland-based Elan. Most of this will come from offshore cash, Biogen CFO and EVP Paul Clancy said on a Feb. 6 call. Biogen Idec had $3.7 billion in cash at Dec. 31. In addition, Elan will receive 12% of Tysabri sales in the first year and then after that 18% on sales under $2 billion and 25% on sales over $2 billion. Tysabri had 2012 sales of $1.6 billion, with some analysts modelling peak annual sales well above $2 billion.

Biogen CEO George Scangos made reviving Tysabri revenue growth a priority when he began his tenure in June 2010. After a 2004 approval, Tysabri was withdrawn from the market in 2006 due to reports of the fatal brain disease, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). It re-entered the market in 2006 with a label for second-line use and a boxed warning. Scangos pushed for the development and approval of a test for JCV antibodies to assess PML risk. In January 2012, FDA updated the Tysabri label on include information quantifying the risks of developing PML according to JCV antibody status. Last month, the partners submitted applications to FDA and EMA for first-line use of Tysabri in patients who test negative for antibodies to the JC virus.

Wall Street initially was wildly enthusiastic about Biogen’s move, spiking shares up 6% in early trading Feb. 6. But since then, the Street has become a bit more cautious, with the gain retreating to about 2% by market close on Feb. 7. Skeptics worry Tysabri won’t live up to revenue expectations or that Biogen’s execution of this deal just ahead of the March 28 PDUFA date for the oral MS drug formerly known as BG-12, now called Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), indicates reduced optimism for the new treatment. On the Elan side, buysiders worry about whether President and CEO Kelly Martin will use that mountain of cash to make useful deals. The company doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to strategic transactions. Elan shares were off 6% by the end of Feb. 7 on the deal.

Biogen Idec is hardly alone among biopharmas in having stacks of offshore cash. At the end of 2011, biopharma companies had a  total of $183 billion in cash most of which was offshore, according to a March report from Moody’s. To put that in some context, that is roughly equal to the combined market caps of Amgen, Gilead Sciences and Bristol. Biopharma is second only to the technology industry when it comes to the sheer amount of cash on the books. Last week, the IT sector also offered an instructive example with the privatization of Dell, which itself could be a partial end-run around offshore cash and corporate taxation issues.

The top biopharma cash hoarders in 2011 were Pfizer ($35.3 billion); Johnson & Johnson ($32.3 billion); Amgen ($20.6 billion); Merck ($18 billion) and Bristol ($11.6 billion). Now that the immediate panic of patent cliffs is behind many of them, perhaps biopharmas will take a breather, look around and think of more creative, tax-efficient ways to deploy all that cash.

For a look the rest of the money that was spent in this week's biopharma deal activity, you need go no further than this week's edition of . . .

Alnylam/The Medicines Co. Hospital specialist The Medicines Co. is jumping into the PCSK9 race for the treatment of high cholesterol in a partnership with RNAi therapeutics developer Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, announced Feb. 4. But the program is far behind other PCSK9 drugs in development at Sanofi/Regeneron and Amgen, which are both in Phase III development. The product, which has completed Phase I testing, will have to prove itself to be differentiated from the leaders if it is to become an eventual commercial success. Alnylam and TMC don’t think that’s a problem because as an RNAi therapeutic ALN-PCS works through a different mechanism of action than the leading drugs in development, which are monoclonal antibodies. That could yield a best-in-class drug, the companies predict, although the results will have to bear out in clinical studies. Alnylam will be responsible for developing the programs further for an estimated one to two years to complete preclinical and Phase I clinical studies of the subcutaneous formulation, and TMC will be responsible for leading and funding development from Phase II forward and for commercializing the program if successful. TMC will pay $25 million upfront and Alnylam stands to receive potential development and commercial milestone payments of up to $180 million and could earn scaled double-digit royalties on sales of the resulting products. It’s not an enormous value for an asset that hits such a hot target. Alnylam Chief Business Officer Laurence Reid admitted the upfront portion of the deal reflects the competitive dynamics in the PCSK9 field and the fact that there are several drugs in later stages of development. - Jessica Merrill

Inspiration/Cangene: French company Ipsen is finally free of U.S. partner Inspiration Biopharmaceuticals. Cangene has agreed to buy rights to IB1001, a recombinant factor IX (rFIX) for the treatment of hemophilia B, which FDA put on clinical hold in 2012. The deal, announced Feb. 6, completes the sale process of all Ipsen and Inspiration hemophilia assets and follows the Jan. 24 news that Baxter would buy the troubled biotech’s flagship hemophilia drug OBI-1 and related Boston manufacturing facility. Inspiration entered Chapter 11 protection at the end of October 2012 to restructure and find a buyer for its two main hemophilia products: OBI-1, a recombinant porcine factor VIII (rpFVIII) for treating hemophilia A with inhibitors, and IB1001. In return for global rights to IB1001, Cangene agreed to pay $5.9 million upfront and up to $50 million in potential additional commercial milestones, as well as net sales payments equivalent to a tiered double-digit percentage of IB1001 annual net sales. Meanwhile Baxter, in its transaction pact for OBI-1, will pay $50 million upfront, up to $135 million in potential additional development and commercial milestones as well as tiered net sales payments ranging from 12.5% to 17.5% of OBI-1 annual net sales. As Inspiration's only senior secured creditor and as the owner of non-Inspiration assets that will be included in the sale of both OBI-1 and IB1001, Ipsen will get some 60% of the overall upfront payments. Ipsen is clearly relieved to have found a buyer for IB1001 given the medicine’s shaky regulatory prospects after the FDA-imposed clinical hold on IB1001 impacted two ongoing phase III trials. Since Inspiration filed for bankruptcy protection, Ipsen has backed the biotech with $23.6 million in debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing to keep it going amid efforts to sell its assets. Ipsen expects to cover the DIP amount with its share of upfront payments from the two asset sales with Baxter and Cangene. The French biotech may take a €100 million impairment charge for the hemophilia assets such as convertible bonds used to finance the collaboration and its investment in the Milford, MA plant. A fuller picture should come on Feb. 27 when Ipsen reports 2012 earnings. - Sten Stovall

Pfizer/OxOnc: Drug-development group OxOnc, which is funded by health care hedge fund OrbiMed Advisors, signed a deal with Pfizer to co-develop Xalkori (crizotinib) in a pivotal clinical trial intended to enable the approval of the drug in Asian countries in a new indication. Xalkori is already approved in the U.S., EU, Japan and other countries to treat patients with ALK-positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This trial would be in ROS1-positive advanced NSCLC patients. The trial will be at multiple sites in Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea. OxOnc will be eligible to receive undisclosed milestones if Xalkori is approved in this indication. No further details were disclosed. - Stacy Lawrence

Isotechnika /Aurinia: Isotechnika licensed out exclusive rights a year ago to its lead drug in a couple of indications and now it’s planning a merger to get it back. Last January, the Canadian company licensed rights to voclosporin to treat lupus and proteinuric nephrology indications to Vifor Pharma. Swiss specialty pharma Vifor subsequently spun out Aurinia with the asset. Isotechnika and Aurinia now are planning to merge under undisclosed terms with post-merger ownership of 60/40, respectively. The merged company will trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange and be known as Aurinia. Management will come from both companies. Aurinia’s management is primarily from Aspreva Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by the Galenica Group for C$915 million in 2008. Vifor is also part of the Galenica Group. The merger is expected to complete by March 15, pending approval from Isotechnika shareholders and the Toronto Stock Exchange as well as the raising of C$3 million by Isotechnika. The new company plans to start a Phase IIb study this year of voclosporin, in addition to standard of care, to treat lupus nephritis. - S.L.

Stacks of Euros photo courtesy of flickr user aranjuez1404

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