An­a­lysts’ top 10 biotech takeover tar­gets are con­cen­trat­ed in two key ar­eas

CEO Schwan of Swiss drug­mak­er Roche ad­dress­es the an­nu­al news con­fer­ence in Basel Get­ty


While Cred­it Su­isse was siz­ing up the amount of over­seas mon­ey that will soon be avail­able to the top buy­ers in bio­phar­ma, their an­a­lysts put to­geth­er a list of top takeover tar­gets, ranked by mar­ket cap. I’m pulling out the top 10 here to go along­side the main sto­ry — for End­points News In­sid­ers — on who has $171 bil­lion to play with, along with sug­ges­tions on how they can spend that mon­ey.

A few key words leap out at us in this as­sess­ment. One is on­col­o­gy, which is grab­bing the li­on’s share of the mon­ey in the deal­mak­ing world. Two more: Rare dis­eases. Reg­u­la­tors are quick to hur­ry these new drugs along, with de­vel­op­ers us­ing small stud­ies to of­fer proof of ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty. And the price tags can be ex­treme. That’s a win­ning com­bi­na­tion for many of the buy­ers out there.

What’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly win­ning are the mar­ket caps you see be­low. These com­pa­nies may be at­trac­tive, but on­ly at the right price. I go through an ex­er­cise some­times where I imag­ine what Roche CEO Sev­erin Schwan would say in pri­vate about some of these num­bers.

Now add a takeover pre­mi­um.

I’m us­ing the Cred­it Su­isse num­bers for the re­port, but they’ve shift­ed a lit­tle.


1 Ver­tex $VRTX
Mar­ket cap: $37 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Cys­tic fi­bro­sis and rare dis­eases

The scoop: Ver­tex ex­ecs have been hav­ing a hey­day with new, promis­ing da­ta for their CF com­bos. The com­pa­ny pulled off a re­mark­able feat in switch­ing from hep C — now dom­i­nat­ed by Gilead — to CF. In­vestors have bid up their shares, in­trigued by the up­side of a buy­out deal for a com­pa­ny that ap­pears to some to be a tempt­ing tar­get, even at this gar­gan­tu­an val­u­a­tion. The math, though, will not be easy.


2 Alex­ion $ALXN
Mar­ket cap: $24 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Hema­tol­ogy/rare dis­eases

Lud­wig Hantson

The scoop: The big as­set here is Soliris, of course, which has a num­ber of ri­vals in the clin­ic. But Alex­ion has been turn­ing heads with ‘1210, its next-gen suc­ces­sor for PNH. And even though the rest of the pipeline has lit­tle to of­fer, with Lud­wig Hantson look­ing for new as­sets as he moves the com­pa­ny to Boston, any buy­er would have lit­tle trou­ble in swal­low­ing the op­er­a­tions. Big ques­tion re­mains the same as Ver­tex. How do you make these num­bers work?


3 In­cyte $IN­CY
Mar­ket cap: $21 bil­lion
Fo­cus: On­col­o­gy and hema­tol­ogy

The scoop: This one seems more in the realm of the pos­si­ble. The biotech has a mar­ket­ed prod­uct and a lead as­set in IDO1 that’s grabbed a lot of at­ten­tion. Pricey? And how. But this is one way to make a quick splash.


4 Bio­Marin $BM­RN
Mar­ket cap: $15 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Rare dis­eases

The scoop: Bio­Marin has been on the top 10 list of buy­out tar­gets for so long, it seems to have brand­ed it­self as an at­trac­tive ac­qui­si­tion. But through the years, it’s been all smoke and no fire. The com­pa­ny is a leader in rare dis­eases, which quite a few big buy­ers would ben­e­fit from.


5 Alk­er­mes $ALKS
Mar­ket cap: $7.9 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Schiz­o­phre­nia, de­pres­sion

The scoop: Alk­er­mes has had its ups and downs in the last cou­ple of years. which is one rea­son why the stock has nev­er ful­ly re­turned to peak form af­ter the drub­bing it took in ear­ly 2016 on the first round of bad news for ‘5461 in de­pres­sion. The biotech has since made a re­mark­able turn­around there, set­ting up high ex­pec­ta­tions that keep Alk­er­mes in the top 10. The com­pa­ny has some mar­ket­ed prod­ucts and a late-stage pipeline for po­ten­tial buy­ers to in­spect. But the stock has been much low­er with­out trig­ger­ing a bid. What’s the big mo­ti­va­tion to move now?


6 Tesaro $TSRO
Mar­ket cap: $4.5 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Can­cer

The scoop: Tesaro has been on the top buy­out list ever since Ze­ju­la was ap­proved. But no one has come up with the cash so far, and every­one has had a chance to run the num­bers. A leader in the PARP field, the biotech would seem to have the per­fect pro­file for an ac­qui­si­tion by any­one in the mar­ket look­ing to pay a pre­mi­um for a can­cer drug. But the top team has yet to make a deal work, de­spite all the buzz.


7 Gala­pa­gos $GLPG
Mar­ket cap: $3.9 bil­lion
Fo­cus: In­flam­ma­tion and im­munol­o­gy

The scoop: Gala­pa­gos finds it­self in a late-stage race with fil­go­tinib on rheuma­toid arthri­tis and Crohn’s, which earned a $725 mil­lion up­front for a part­ner­ship with Gilead. That’s helped keep this biotech in the big leagues among buy­out tar­gets, though it’s a wild­ly com­pet­i­tive field with lots of out­stand­ing play­ers. In­vestors seem to ei­ther love this com­pa­ny or hate it. We’ll find out soon enough who was right. But no one is ig­nor­ing Gala­pa­gos.


8 Puma $PBYI
Mar­ket cap: $3.8 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Can­cer

The scoop: Talk about love and hate. The shorts loved to hate on Puma, cit­ing some is­sues ner­a­tinib had with di­ar­rhea. The FDA wasn’t too con­cerned, though, and the ex­perts on the agency pan­el bare­ly men­tioned an is­sue that they felt could be suc­cess­ful­ly man­aged while treat­ing pa­tients. Puma now has a prod­uct on the mar­ket, and like Tesaro looks like the kind of bolt-on that revs up a lot of the big buy­ers in the on­col­o­gy field.


9 Sarep­ta $SRPT
Mar­ket cap: $3.7 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy, rare dis­eases

The scoop: What­ev­er you think about Sarep­ta, and every­one thinks some­thing, they have a DMD drug on the mar­ket and it isn’t go­ing any­where. Sure, there was plen­ty of con­tro­ver­sy about the FDA ap­proval on sus­pi­cious da­ta from on­ly 12 pa­tients, but the agency shows no sign of back­ing away now. The biotech, mean­while, has been mak­ing progress with the pipeline, de­ter­mined not to lose its edge as a long list of ri­vals take a shot at DMD. Now that the con­tro­ver­sy has died down, will a big buy­er step in, or do they want to avoid the headache?


10 Por­to­la $PT­LA
Mar­ket cap: $3.2 bil­lion
Fo­cus: Car­dio­vas­cu­lar

The scoop: Last year the com­pa­ny re­port­ed that its an­ti­co­ag­u­lant has just bare­ly failed a key end­point in ex­am­in­ing the drug’s ef­fi­ca­cy (p=0.054) among a key co­hort of pa­tients with el­e­vat­ed D-dimer lev­els. The com­pa­ny went on, though, to do an ex­plorato­ry analy­sis of the re­sults, claim­ing a win in re­duc­ing the risk of ve­nous throm­boem­bolism — or sim­ply, blood clots — for their drug com­pared to enoxa­parin. Reg­u­la­tors agreed, ap­prov­ing the ther­a­py last sum­mer for acute­ly ill pa­tients. Now an­oth­er drug could be poised for an OK, leav­ing Por­to­la in the top 10. Car­dio is one of the tough­est fields in R&D, and some big play­ers may find it eas­i­er to mar­ket these drugs more ef­fi­cient­ly.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

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Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Chi­nese biotech Ever­est signs $550M+ li­cens­ing deal for BTK in­hibitors on heels of Covid-19 pact

Everest Medicines is on a roll with two licensing deals in one week.

The Shanghai-based biotech has paid Sinovent and SinoMab $12 million upfront for the rights to a BTK inhibitor for renal diseases, the company announced Thursday. The deal comes just days after Everest came away with rights to a Covid-19 vaccine in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Everest will pay Sinovent and SinoMab up to $549 million in milestone payments and royalties. The agreement includes tech transfer of Sinovent and SinoMab’s manufacturing process for the candidate, named XNW1011.

Gri­fols drops $1B on Ger­man hold­ing com­pa­ny in con­tin­ued plas­ma push

One Spanish biotech is beefing up its plasma therapy operations, and on Friday, it announced that it’s doing so in a billion-dollar deal.

Grifols is now the largest shareholder of Biotest, a company valued at more than $1.8 billion. By teaming up, the two will try to increase the number of plasma therapies available and increase patient access around the world, Grifols said in a press release.

The company did so by acquiring holding company Tiancheng Pharmaceutical, the Germany-based owner of nearly 90% of Biotest shares, for nearly $1.27 billion. Grifols now owns nearly 90% of Biotest voting rights and almost 45% of the total share capital of Biotest.