M&A slows to a trick­le in 2017, but Big Phar­ma could be on deck for mega deals

Free-flow­ing cash for star­tups, sky-high val­u­a­tions, and un­cer­tain­ty about tax re­form led to un­ex­pect­ed stag­na­tion in M&A this year. But big deals could be on the hori­zon as large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies get squeezed to de­liv­er top line growth.

Af­ter a lack­lus­ter 2016 (thanks to un­cer­tain­ty in an elec­tion year), many ex­perts in the in­dus­try pre­dict­ed — with Pres­i­dent Trump firm­ly seat­ed in the White House — that we would see an uptick in merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions in 2017. They were wrong. Be­sides Gilead’s near­ly $12 bil­lion move on Kite, 2017 was rather qui­et on the M&A front, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by Eval­u­atePhar­ma’s EP Van­tage.

Ex­perts are now won­der­ing if ac­quir­ers are on stand­by, wait­ing to see what will hap­pen with tax re­form be­fore mov­ing for­ward on big pur­chas­es. And it makes sense. It’s es­ti­mat­ed that big phar­ma and biotech has rough­ly $171 bil­lion held in oth­er ter­ri­to­ries to avoid the 35% cor­po­rate tax rate here in the US. If that mon­ey can come back over thanks to repa­tri­a­tion, then these com­pa­nies will have a lot more play mon­ey to take shop­ping.

Oth­er rea­sons for the slow­down in M&A this year could be climb­ing val­u­a­tions of small and mid-sized bio­phar­mas — es­pe­cial­ly in hot ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment. Some­times those big buy­outs came back to bite the buy­ers (look­ing at you, Medi­va­tion).

One of the per­haps most in­ter­est­ing rea­sons for the slow M&A could be the in­dus­try’s rel­a­tive­ly easy ac­cess to cap­i­tal. As you can see in the chart be­low, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists have been giv­ing out big­ger chunks of cash to com­pa­nies — rem­i­nis­cent of the boom times of 2014. When com­pa­nies can raise their own mon­ey for more ex­pen­sive, lat­er-stage de­vel­op­ment, then they’re less like­ly to look for buy­ers. On top of big ven­ture deals, the IPO mar­ket has been hot this year, with even pre­clin­i­cal com­pa­nies go­ing pub­lic with rel­a­tive suc­cess.

But this deal hia­tus, both in 2016 and 2017, is like­ly putting pres­sure on big phar­mas, the Van­tage re­port says. Com­pa­nies re­ly­ing on old­er drug fran­chis­es are par­tic­u­lar­ly im­pli­cat­ed.

“Com­pa­nies that re­ly on lega­cy prod­ucts in ar­eas like di­a­betes or heart dis­eases are in huge trou­ble,” Lon­car In­vest­ments CEO Brad Lon­car told EP Van­tage. “In these ar­eas, pay­ers have the pow­er. This might mean we see M&A, and that would be the top in­gre­di­ent for hav­ing a good 2018.”

These large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are the ones that saw some less-than-stel­lar fi­nan­cial per­for­mance ear­li­er this year. Missed ex­pec­ta­tions for the growth prospects of Cel­gene and Bio­gen, for ex­am­ple, caused a sig­nif­i­cant sell­off.

The EP Van­tage re­port spec­u­lates that poor fi­nan­cial per­for­mance of some big play­ers could mean bar­gain prices for some M&As down the road.

“So if val­u­a­tions of big cap biotechs re­main de­pressed, and progress on tax re­form emerges, then per­haps 2018 will see more, larg­er deals. Pfiz­er is still most fre­quent­ly named as an en­thu­si­as­tic big buy­er – fa­vorite tar­gets for the ru­mor mill cur­rent­ly in­clude Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and Bio­gen. And ex­ec­u­tives from oth­er large play­ers – Mer­ck & Co and Gilead for ex­am­ple – have re­cent­ly made it clear that they are look­ing around.”

In short, this re­port in­di­cates that small and mid-stage com­pa­nies will con­tin­ue to see high val­u­a­tions, easy ac­cess to cash, and a friend­ly IPO mar­ket — as long as un­fore­see­able macro­eco­nom­ic fac­tors don’t tank the mar­ket. Large-cap com­pa­nies, how­ev­er, may see shrink­ing val­u­a­tions, af­ford­able price tags, and more sig­nif­i­cant con­sol­i­da­tion (should tax re­form go their way).

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Enrique Conterno, FibroGen

As it awaits piv­otal re­view of lead drug, Fi­bro­Gen bol­sters its ear­ly pipeline with li­cens­ing deal for galectin pro­gram

FibroGen’s long-awaited review for anemia med roxadustat is just weeks away, and there’s good reason to believe the outcome won’t swing in its favor after a data manipulation scandal and tepid analyst consensus on the drug’s chances. With its future murky, FibroGen is now opening the pocketbook to refresh its pipeline for whatever the next phase may be.

FibroGen will shell out $25 million in cash for a global license to Boston-area biotech HiFiBiO’s galectin-9 platform targeting immuno-oncology and autoimmune disorders, the partners said Thursday.

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Samantha Du, Zai Lab

Chi­nese on­col­o­gy spe­cial­ist Zai Lab bro­kers a deal with Macro­Gen­ics for up to 4 bis­pecifics with a mod­est down pay­ment

Samantha Du’s Zai Lab has earned its reputation as a Chinese oncology partner of choice with an aggressive licensing strategy to tap that growing market. Now, a West Coast bispecifics player with a lead collaboration molecule already identified will add its name to Zai Lab’s growing rolodex.

Zai Lab will shell out $55 million upfront — $25 million in cash and $30 million in equity — for a mix of Asian and global rights to four of San Francisco-based MacroGenics’ bispecific antibodies, with one lead molecule already in development, the partners said Wednesday.

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FDA's con­tro­ver­sial Aduhelm de­ci­sion leaves ALS pa­tients feel­ing spurned

The FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been met with fierce resistance from all corners of the biopharma industry, but few seem to be as upset with the decision as ALS patients and advocacy groups.

For all that’s already been written and discussed about the agency’s announcement, from the drug’s exorbitantly high price of $56,000 per year to criticism over lowered standards, ALS patients see something more. ALS patients and associations say they largely regarded Aduhelm’s approval as a bittersweet double standard: happy that those with Alzheimer’s have a new drug available, but questioning how the FDA evaluated Biogen’s drug compared to the experimental programs being studied for their own disease.

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