Friday, December 19, 2008

Deals of the Year Nominee: Takeda/Millennium

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.

Takeda's $8.8 billion bid for Millennium Pharmaceuticals--the largest deal in its storied two century history--deserves a nod as deal of the year for a number of reasons.

Along with Eisai's 2007 acquisition of MGI Pharma and Daiichi Sankyo's $4.6 billion buy-out of a controlling interest in Ranbaxy (another 2008 deal of the year), Takeda's purchase of Millennium shows the determination of Japanese pharmaceutical companies to morph into global players on the biopharmaceutical industry stage. Indeed, as a group, Japanese pharmas were one of the top acquirers of private biotech from 2003 through August 2008, according to a recent START-UP article.

And their penchant for ex-Japan acquisitions is likely to continue, fueled in large part by a demanding domestic market where yearly price cuts on drugs are mandated by the government, stagnating growth, and a slower regulatory approval process. Add in pipeline pressures, large war chests of cash, and the relative strength of the yen to other currencies (a condition that gives the Japanese the upper hand in bidding wars), and its not unreasonable to believe that in 2009 Japan pharma companies will continue to be some of the industry's most active--and important--dealmakers.

But the Takeda/Milllennium deal doesn't just illustrate the prowess of Japanese deal-making. The transaction underscores another major theme at work in the industry: Big Pharma's apparently insatiable appetite for oncology products.

Think about it. In the past six months, we've seen Pfizer restructure with an eye to a more flexible future--a move that included eliminating early stage R&D in Big Pharma standbys like cardiovascular and obesity, and a greater emphasis on oncology, through the creation of its oncology business unit. Then there was Eli Lilly's October surprise--the $6.5 billion purchase of ImClone, a move that gives the Indianaoplis-based drug maker partial ownership of Erbitux plus a pipeline of targeted, but primarily early stage oncology products.

Indeed, Lilly's rationale for the ImClone deal sounded a lot like the reasoning Takeda offered up for its own bid for Millennium back in April: a need to bulk up in biologics, particularly in an indication with high unmet medical need and a smoother regulatory approval path.

Certainly, from a deal-making perspective Takeda has become the new deep-pockets of the cancer world. In 2008 alone, it inked handsome—some might argue excessive--agreements with Amgen, Cell Genesys, Millennium, and Alnylam to boost its abilities in oncology.

In its two-part monster deal with Amgen in February, for instance, Takeda spent $300 million up-front to gain Japanese rights to 13 compounds, including Vectibix, a humanized antibody to treat metastatic colorectal cancer, and purchased world-wide rights to motesanib, Amgen's Phase III angiogenesis inhibitor for various cancers. As part of the deal, Takeda agreed to purchase Amgen KK, Amgen's Japanese subsidiary, for an undisclosed price, in a bid to bulk up its large molecule offerings.

In May, the company announced one of its biggest research tie-ups yet: a deal with Alnylam worth $150 million up front for a nonexclusive license to develop drugs against oncology and metabolic disease targets using that company's RNA interference technology (another deal of the year nominee.)

But as we wrote in this feature, the acquisition of Millennium, which gives Takeda a potentially important marketed product in Velcade plus 10 other molecules in early-stage clinical trials, has to be considered the most significant--and perhaps strategically transformative--deal in Takeda's history.

Takeda's president, Yasuchika Hasegawa apparently played a critical role in pushing the deal through the company, convincing fellow executives and board members of its wisdom via a plethora of data that included financial simulations and pipeline studies. Key selling points in Millennium's favor: it offered Takeda geographic and pipeline synergies, dramatically expanding the company's commercial capabilities in the US, as well as strengthening its oncology franchise. In addition, Millennium already had in place a very capable management team, including president and CEO Deborah Dunsire, MD, a seasoned pharmaceutical veteran.

"Our typical approach when doing an acquisition is to select a target company with a proven track record where we don't need to implement major restructuring after the purchase," said Hasegawa in an interview with IN VIVO following the deal's announcement. But analysts have roundly criticized the deal for its expense, the lack of revenue generating products it provides, as well as the near-term quarterly hit on earning growth it will necessitate. Back in May, Takeda predicted that integrating Millennium would reduce the pharma's profit by 55% this year alone. In a November update, the company revealed just how much the acquisition cost its bottom line: ¥137.7 billion, reflecting in part the adverse impact of the U.S. economic slowdown.

Even so, six months later, it looks to have been a smart move. Velcade's approval in June as a first-line therapy for multiple myeloma has dramatically increased sales of the drug. In early December came news that worldwide sales of the product eclipsed $1 billion for the first-time. Moreover, a spate of positive news at the annual American Society for Hematology meeting suggest that the drug will remain a cornerstone of myeloma treatment for years to come.

And the truth is, Takeda' emerging cancer franchise, with Velcade as its cornerstone, is the company's lone bright spot. Recall that Takeda's two biggest money-makers, Actos and Prevacid, will go generic in 2013, at which time analysts expect profits from those drugs will drop 35% and 26% respectively. But thanks to late-stage clinical failures and missed PDUFA dates there's little beyond Velcade to make up the revenue gap.

Put another way: without eggs such as Velcade--and to a lesser extent Amgen's Vectibix--Takeda's basket of products would be decidedly empty.

Earlier this year the company announced it was shelving TAK-475, a novel cholesterol lowering drug in Phase III clinical trials, and matuzumab, a humanized antibody targeting the EGFR receptor under development with partner Merck KGAA. In late summer came news that the Phase III GVAX prostate cancer vaccine developed by Cell Genesys (for which Takeda paid $50 million upfront in a deal announced March 2008) failed to show efficacy in two different clinical trials. On October 17, Takeda officially pulled the plug on GVAX.

And the bad news kept coming. As October slid into November, the Japanese pharma announced the FDA has missed PDUFA dates for both its Prevacid follow-on TAK-390MR and its DPP-IV inhibitor, alogliptin. Both drugs fall squarely into the category of primary care drugs with high bars for regulatory approval.

TAK-390MR treats gastro-esophageal reflux disease, a non life-threatening condition well-treated by generic meds such as Zantac and Prilosec (and soon to be generic Prevacid). If regulators have any concerns about potential safety signals--Takeda attributes the delay to a backlog at FDA not something more sinister--they may be taking their time to evaluate the drug's application.

In the case of alogliptin, the drug's approval may be delayed due to shifting guidelines on diabetes meds. On Dec. 18, the agency put more stringent guidelines related to cardiovascular safety criteria into place for diabetes medicines. The new guidelines appy to all drugs in development or currently under agency review.

But to date, Takeda's oncology franchise is holding its own. Three out of six products in development registered advances. In addition to the dramatic uptick in Velcade sales, Takeda's TAP-144-SR for prostate cancer won marketing approval in Austria and Germany this year; and the colon cancer drug Vectibix recently completed Phase III trials and is pending approval in Japan.

No wonder its oncology all the time at Takeda these days.

beautiful basket of chicken eggs courtesy of flickr user woodleywonderworks through a creative commons license.

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