Friday, March 22, 2013

Deals of the Week Wants Cash on the Barrelhead


For pharmas making all but the largest acquisitions, cash is king. From speculative buyouts of preclinical start-ups all the way through bolt-on deals worth a few billion dollars, pharmas typically spend cash rather than swap stock to make their acquisitions. Except in the cases of mega-mergers, a pharma’s purchasing power lies on its balance sheet, not in its share price.

So when Moody’s Investor Service issued a March 18 study of the U.S. companies whose cash coffers were the richest, Deals of the Week couldn’t help but turn an eye to the seven health care companies named in the report. None of them has disclosed a pharma acquisition yet in 2013, but rumors are swirling that one will strike soon.

Pfizer was the wealthiest in the bunch, with $46.9 billion in the till at the end of 2012. That’s enough to place it fourth across all industries, behind only Apple, Microsoft and Google. And although Pfizer had the world’s best-selling drug for several years running until Lipitor (atorvastatin) lost patent protection in 2011, not all of its bounty came from product sales. It did, after all, pare off its nutrition business in an $11.85 billion sale to Nestle SA last year, not to mention its Capsugel unit to private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 2011. Pfizer hasn’t done a pharma acquisition since its (all-cash) takeout of NextWave Pharmaceuticals Inc. in November.

Ninth-place Amgen made four large cash buys in 2012, including deals for Micromet Inc., deCODE genetics EHF, KAI Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Mustafa Nevzat Pharmaceuticals that totaled more than $2.5 billion. But those made a small dent on Amgen’s balance sheet; Moody’s said the big biotech had $24.1 billion at year’s end. The report also noted that 78% of Amgen’s liquidity is located overseas; two of its four large 2012 deals were for non-U.S. companies.

Beyond Amgen, Johnson & Johnson wasn’t far behind at 13th place with $21.1 billion, while Merck was 15th with $16.1 billion. (J&J-owned Cordis made one device acquisition this month, buying Flexible Stenting Solutions Inc. for an undisclosed sum.)

Moody’s reported that Abbott had $15.2 billion in cash on Dec. 31, enough for 17th on the overall list, but a day later, the company split in two. Its pharma descendant, AbbVie, had $7.98 billion upon launch, according to a March 15 regulatory filing. Rounding out the top pharmas were Lilly at 23rd with $12 billion and Bristol-Myers Squibb at 40th with $6.4 billion.

More broadly, the pharma industry holds about 14% of the $1.45 trillion corporate cash pile, a share which has remained roughly the same for several years. It’s the second largest sector behind technology, which gained share to 38%, while energy is among the industries losing share.

If Big Pharma isn't yet striking, some companies are still buying, licensing, and partnering. You won't get thirty days in the jailhouse, but you won't be abreast of this week's dealmaking news without...

Valeant/Obagi: Canada’s Valeant Pharmaceuticals is again strengthening its dermatology business through acquisition, this time by buying Obagi Medical Products, the maker of several proprietary aesthetic and prescription skin-care lines sold through physician offices. The companies announced Valeant’s plans to acquire the Long Beach, Calif., company March 20 for $19.75 per share in cash, or about $360 million. Valeant’s offer represents a 42% premium to Obagi’s closing share price March 14, the last trading day prior to the disclosure of its fourth quarter and full-year 2012 earnings. The company generated sales of $120.7 million in 2012. Obagi’s portfolio includes a range of skin-care lines, including Obagi Nu-Derm, Obagi-C Rx, Obagi Condition & Enhance and ObagiCLENZIderm M.D. acne therapeutic system. Valeant has built itself into one of the world’s leading dermatology players through acquisitions. Last year, Valeant announced plans to buy Medicis Pharmaceutical for $2.6 billion, positioning it as the largest dermatology player in the U.S. and second in the world behind only Galderma. - Jessica Merrill

AstraZeneca/Moderna: Along with its new R&D strategy and organizational restructuring, AstraZeneca unveiled a massive bet on an early-stage biotech platform March 21 that suggests the big pharma has taken to heart its new CEO’s directive to be more willing to embrace risk. The deal, an option agreement for up to 40 programs across several therapeutic areas with privately held Moderna Therapeutics, carries an eye-catching price tag: $240 million up front, plus potential earn-outs. All told, Moderna, which aims to use messenger RNA (mRNA) as therapeutics, could earn more than $1 billion under the deal with AstraZeneca, announced March 21. That same day, AstraZeneca also unveiled a research partnership in cardiovascular, metabolic and regenerative disease with Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, one of several collaborations between those two groups in recent years. Beyond the $240 million upfront payment – the largest this year in a biotech/pharma collaboration and one of the biggest ever for a deal built around preclinical assets – Moderna also can earn up to $180 million in “technical milestones,” an arrangement Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel described as almost a secondary, contingent upfront payment. Moderna also could bring home development, regulatory and commercial milestones for each drug candidate licensed by AstraZeneca, as well as sales royalties ranging from the high single digits to low double digits. - Joseph Haas

Merck/Cerecor: Well-funded Baltimore start-up Cerecor has licensed a portfolio of neurology drugs from Merck that have shown potential in treating Parkinson’s disease. The program includes more than 2,000 molecules that inhibit catechol-O-methyltransferase, or COMT, a compound that breaks down dopamine in the brain and is linked to improving brain functions such as cognition, motivation and emotion. In a March 20 statement announcing the deal, Cerecor said Merck’s research has improved toxicity issues related to other COMT inhibitors. Marketed drugs in the class include Novartis’s Comtan (entacapone) and Valeant’s Tasmar (tolcapone), which typically are prescribed with levodopa, a synthetic form of the natural dopamine-producing chemical L-dopa. Terms of the Merck-Cerecor arrangement weren’t released, although Cerecor said it will pay milestones and royalties “consistent with other preclinical licenses in neuroscience.” The start-up has a Phase I anti-tussive drug, as well as a group of preclinical D-amino acid oxidase inhibitors obtained from Johns Hopkins University’s Brain Science Institute, in its pipeline. Last April, Cerecor raised $22 million in a Series A round using placement agent Maxim Group; the specific investors weren’t named. Former Celgene CEO Sol Barer is Cerecor’s chairman. - Paul Bonanos

Celgene/bluebird bio: Speaking of Celgene, the Summit, N.J., gene- and protein-regulation specialist has teamed up with 2012 Deals of the Year nominee bluebird bio in a gene-therapy deal (pdf) that will target oncology. Specifically, the two companies will collaborate to develop therapies that modify a patient’s own chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, then re-introduce them to target cancer cells. Although bluebird bio will foot the bill for Phase I trials on clinical products, Celgene will have the option to obtain a global license for each for an unspecified fee; bluebird bio retains the right to share U.S. rights in exchange for reduced milestone payments. Celgene’s upfront payment wasn’t revealed, but total fees including milestones for each product could total $225 million plus royalties. Celgene also agreed to collaborate on CAR T-cell research with scientists at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and The Methodist Hospital, Houston. The team at bluebird bio also will have access to the scientists, led by Baylor professor Malcolm Brenner. - P.B.

NPS/Takeda: Two assets came full-circle March 19 as NPS Pharmaceuticals re-acquired ex-U.S. rights to a pair of rare disease drugs in a deal that will increase the equity position of Japanese pharma Takeda Pharmaceutical. NPS previously out-licensed the rights to teduglutide and PTH 1-84 in separate deals with Nycomed Pharma, which then was acquired by Takeda. In an unusual deal structure, NPS, which is marketing teduglutide in the U.S. as Gattex and hopes to file PTH 1-84 under the brand name Natpara later this year as a biologic therapy for hypoparathyroidism, brought the ex-U.S. rights to those two compounds in-house in exchange for $50 million in common stock. Down the road, Takeda can earn an additional $30 million, which will be either cash or additional equity at NPS’ discretion, when the two drugs achieve combined worldwide, single-year net sales of $750 million. Takeda holds an equity position of about 7% following this deal, NPS President and CEO Francois Nader said. Both the licensing fee and the sales-based milestone were structured as equity (although the milestone can be paid out as cash if NPS opts) partly to preserve cash, Nader said. An ex-U.S. license to both drugs is just the start of what NPS gains under the deal. The transaction also transfers an inventory of active pharmaceutical ingredients for both drugs to NPS, a less-expensive method for making teduglutide, a glucagon-like peptide 2 (GLP-2) analog, and a pen delivery system that could be used with PTH 1-84. - J.A.H.

CRT/Janssen: Cancer Research Technology, the technology transfer arm of world’s largest charity Cancer Research UK, and Janssen Biotech have joined in the search to find potential new multiple myeloma drugs. The duo hope they can identify molecules and develop potential medicines that block a key protein on a cell-signaling route called the unfolded protein response (UPR) pathway. Teams at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), led by Ian Collins in the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and Faith Davies in the Division of Molecular Pathology, will work alongside a team at Janssen. Together, Cancer Research UK and Janssen will fund up to 25 scientists, with Janssen providing some of the funding to support the research at the ICR in London. Janssen also will pay future milestones and royalties and take the lead on the clinical development of any potential drugs. The two sides announced their deal on March 21 but gave no financial details. CRT long ago moved beyond simply commercializing and managing the intellectual property generated by the £500 million in research funding provided by Cancer Research UK to five core research institutes across the U.K., as well as to researchers at dozens of other universities and organizations. The breadth of CRT’s academic network – it has sourced and managed IP from more than a dozen global charities and institutes, as well as that of Cancer Research UK-funded research and drug discovery – positions it as an important gateway to cancer-focused research in the U.K. It has a strong in-house drug-discovery capability and access to clinical development capabilities in conjunction with Cancer Research UK’s drug development office. Janssen Biotech is part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. J&J earlier this month opened an innovation center in London but a spokesperson for the U.S. drug company said Janssen’s alliance with CRT was not the result of that center’s establishment. - Sten Stovall

Merck Serono/Nordic Bioscience and Merck KGaA/BMS: Merck Serono, a unit of Merck KGaA, said on March 18 it formed a strategic alliance with Denmark-based Nordic Bioscience AS around the German drug maker’s investigational therapy sprifermin, or recombinant human FGF-18, in osteoarthritis of the knee. Under the terms of the agreement, Nordic Bioscience will provide Merck with clinical development services on a shared-risk basis in exchange for a payment structure that includes service fees and potential milestone and royalty payments on the program. Financial terms of the collaboration were not disclosed; however. Merck retains full responsibility for the development and commercialization of the investigational drug. According to the World Health Organization, more than 5% of adults over 40 in developed countries, or more than 30 million people, suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. A multi-national Phase IIb trial, dubbed the FORWARD study, is expected to begin enrolment in the second half of 2013 to evaluate further sprifermin for inhibition of the progression of structural damage, reduction in pain and improvement of physical function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Sprifermin is a protein thought to induce chondrocyte stimulation leading to matrix synthesis and chondrocyte renewal. It is delivered by intra-articular injection. Two phase I trials in moderate/severe osteoarthritis of the knee previously were completed; a Phase II trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety in patients with cartilage injury of the knee is ongoing. The program was originally was in-licensed in 2004 from ZymoGenetics, a Bristol-Myers subsidiary. The next day, on March 19, Merck KGaA said it inked a deal with Bristol to promote type 2 diabetes drug Glucophage (metformin hydrochloride) under different formulations in China. Under terms of the agreement, Merck Serono and Bristol will co-promote Glucophage in China through a profit-sharing arrangement. Glucophage has been marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb-SASS in China since 1999. The two companies will tap existing resources and complementary strengths, with Bristol-Myers Squibb-SASS continuing to manufacture Glucophage’s IR (immediate release) formulation. The collaboration will seek to expand the geographic distribution of Glucophage and provide diabetes-related health and medical information including education for health professionals. In addition, the co-promotion will significantly increase outreach to hospitals. Other terms of the agreement were not disclosed. -- S.S.

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