Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Biogen Idec Sale: It’s About Revenues – Not Biologics

Last week, IN VIVO Blog broke the news that Biogen Idec had hired bankers to explore a sale.

Now, we know that companies, like people, don’t always act in their economic best interests. And there are plenty of revenue-desperate Big Pharmas (much speculation surrounds Pfizer, as the Wall Street Journal notes here and here) who might let desperation get the better of common sense. One banker peripherally involved in the transaction noted that there was “so much panic [among Big Pharma] about generating revenues they’ll rationalize as much as they need to about cost-cutting to justify the price. If I was at Biogen, I’d be out looking for a job right now.”

But let’s be clear: buying Biogen at this price doesn’t make sense. First, by contract Genentech/Roche will soon be upping their share of Rituxan revenues (from 60% US and greater ex-US to 70% US). And then there’s Elan’s change-in-control option on jointly marketed Tysabri – which could soon be providing a quarter of Biogen’s revenues (or more: it’s likely that Tysabri sales are already beginning to cannibalize sales from Biogen’s other MS drug, Avonex).

It’s possible, perhaps, that Elan and Biogen have reached some sort of understanding over Tysabri. But unless that understanding is worth a ton of money to Elan (which an acquirer would end up paying for), we think it would be hugely stupid for Elan to leave Tysabri in any Biogen-acquiror’s hands without extracting a huge fee (the huge fee they didn’t get when, in 2000, they signed the original deal with Biogen) and probably a far better ex-US royalty rate (we think they now get about 13%).

And Elan would have no trouble – zero – raising the money to buy out Tysabri: investors (who could smell high-profit re-sale to any number of large companies) would jam Elan’s offices with their checkbooks. Imagine what product-poor Novartis would pay for a drug to spearhead its efforts in developing an MS portfolio? “For Elan, this is the best thing since sliced bread,” says a banker. In any event, Elan’s hired Lehman Brothers to advise on the issue – and we’re pretty sure Lehman agrees with us.

So are there non-crazy reasons to buy Biogen at something north of $90/share? If you were intent on stretching a point, you could argue that senior management could use the necessity of making such a big bet pay off to bomb a primary-care mindset into the new world of specialty-care product development and marketing. And a small-molecule Big Pharma could suddenly acquire the rare soup-to-nuts biologics capabilities required to make a go of large molecules. For an in-depth discussion, see this October IN VIVO story.

But there are certainly more sensible compromises an acquirer should make if indeed biologics is the primary goal. For a lot less money, an acquirer could buy PDL, Genmab, MicroMet, Seattle Genetics, Human Genome Sciences or Xoma, each of which would bring some of the requisite capabilities. Certainly there’s plenty of hair on each of these companies—none of them have ever marketed a biological, so they lack proven development and regulatory expertise. None of them are free from management challenges. And they don’t all have the manufacturing capacity some buyers might want. But each of them has far more freedom than virtually any Big Pharma to operate within the IP constraints of the antibody world; they all have at least some of the expertise needed…and the rest can probably be acquired piecemeal.

But we don’t think a biologics business is the goal. The goal is revenues. And what Icahn hopes is that growth-starved, cash-rich Pharmas will be willing to pay an exorbitant exchange rate to trade balance sheet dollars for sales.

Incidentally, while Genzyme stock is up about 20% thanks to the Icahn put-them-in-play treatment, we’re also leery of a sale. To our eyes, Biogen CEO Jim Mullen looks pretty eager to cash out. Our bet is that Henri Termeer, Genzyme’s boss, probably wants to stay right where he is – the grand old man of biotech – and that he’d put up a significant fight to stay independent.

UPDATE: Be sure to vote in our highly unscientific poll on the top-left of the IN VIVO Blog. Who do you think Pfizer and its ilk will take out next?

UPDATE II: Poll is closed. Big winner? Biogen Idec, with more than 50% of the vote!

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