Thursday, February 17, 2011

M&A Predictions! Fortune Tellers -- They Are Not

Even though the New Year has come and gone, analysts are still making their predictions about what 2011 will bring for the pharma and biotech industries. (Admittedly, it is still early enough to do so, but March would have been pushing it.)

The latest endeavor to predict the future comes from the fine analysts at Morningstar, who released their “2011 M&A Outlook for Healthcare” report this week. The report includes some sound, albeit a little obvious, deductions on what will be moving M&A in 2011 – a move into emerging markets, slowing R&D productivity, and (cue ominous music) the upcoming patent cliff.

Morningstar experts expect further consolidation in Big Pharma; and say Eli Lilly & Co., as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb will be ripe for the picking as the patents on their lead drugs reach their expiration date – but, honestly, who would buy them?

Merck & Co. (Schering-Plough), Pfizer Inc. (Wyeth), Roche (Genentech), and Novartis (Alcon)have all made major acquisitions in the past two years that have added significantly to their debt situations and are unlikely to dump the burden of a major restructuring on top of the issues they’ve already had to bear while trying to make these puzzle pieces fit.

Morningstar analyst Damien Conover suggests Abbott Laboratories could handle acquiring either Lilly or Bristol. He also thinks Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline could benefit from an acquisition of Bristol as well. This sounds all well and good, but Glaxo has made it pretty clear that it is not interested in any large acquisitions and Sanofi has its hands full already with that little Genzyme deal it has been drawing out for months. And let’s be honest, if the past has taught us anything, it’s that bigger is not always better.

So moving on to more realistic prospects for mash-ups in 2011 – let’s take a look at what biotechs Morningstar thinks will offer the best bang for the buck.

They list Biogen-Idec, Seattle Genetics, Human Genome Sciences, Dendreon, and Actelion as their top five take-out targets this year. The reasoning is complex but the basic insight is that these companies have strong pipelines or technology in really HOT therapeutic areas like neurology, orphan drugs, and cancer. Yet, Biogen, Celgene, Gilead, and Merck KGaA will offer an acquirer the most immediate and gratifying (think mid-to single-digit billions) boost to earnings – something every Big Pharma could use right now. These companies also have the nice bonus of having a lot of cash on hand and fairly low burn rates.

While all of these companies have their positives and negatives, it’s important to keep in mind that just because they can be acquired doesn’t mean that they will be. Take the #1 takeout target this year for example, Biogen; it’s been on Morningstar’s take-out list for three years now despite plenty attempts by billionaire shareholder Carl Icahn to get the company on the market.

That said; Morningstar hasn’t done abysmally in its predictions over the last two years. Three companies from the 2009 list were acquired – Trubion, CV Therapeutics, and Medarex, but none of these companies were in the top 15 that year. Another seven got picked up from its 2010 list – Crucell, ZymoGenetics, Talecris, King Pharmaceuticals, OSI Pharmaceuticals, Biovail and Genzyme – with three of these companies being in their top 15 picks.

So what do you think – will this be Biogen’s year to find a suitor or will the Massachusetts biotech continue to dance alone?

Image from flickr user What Makes The Pie Shops Tick? used under a creative commons license

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