It’s a sell­er’s world in biotech M&A, and No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan has his check book out and pen ready

The Al­con spin­off is of­fi­cial­ly done to­day, de­but­ing on the Swiss ex­change with a mar­ket cap of $25 bil­lion-plus, and No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan is plan­ning a long-run­ning shop­ping spree in search of im­por­tant new biotech prod­ucts. And he’s been clear­ly fo­cused on a late-stage strat­e­gy that has trig­gered a flash­ing red warn­ing light at a world of po­ten­tial ri­vals.

In sev­er­al in­ter­views, in­clud­ing this one with the Fi­nan­cial Times, the youngest CEO in No­var­tis his­to­ry is new­ly lib­er­at­ed. He has a pipeline stuffed with drugs he’s cer­tain are block­busters-to-be, with 4 late-stage drugs set to launch this year — a re­mark­able achieve­ment, es­pe­cial­ly as sev­er­al of them re­al­ly are tapped as block­busters.

But af­ter ac­quir­ing a taste for buy­outs in on­col­o­gy with new ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — $3.9 bil­lion for Ad­vanced Ac­cel­er­a­tor Ap­pli­ca­tions and $2.1 bil­lion for En­do­cyte — in gene ther­a­py with the $8.7 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of AveX­is and on the an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry side of things with its $1.6 bil­lion pur­chase of the an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry port­fo­lio IFM built up do­ing NL­RP3 work, Narasimhan has come to love the a la carte menu.

Narasimhan is bud­get­ing about 5% of mar­ket cap — rough­ly $10 bil­lion — a year for new M&A. That’s all com­fort­ably in the range of a bolt-on for a glob­al gi­ant like this. And it puts them in­to full shop­ping mode at a time that M&A over­all is surg­ing in the biotech world.

This isn’t des­per­a­tion. No­var­tis is do­ing this stand­ing on the thresh­old of what could be one of its most pro­duc­tive pe­ri­ods ever. As we re­port­ed re­cent­ly, the phar­ma gi­ant has 3 of the top 10 block­busters Eval­u­atePhar­ma tapped for 2019: Zol­gens­ma (AVXS-101), brolu­cizum­ab and Mayzent (sipon­i­mod). Those 3 ther­a­pies come with 2024 sales pro­jec­tions of more than $4 bil­lion.

No­var­tis’ de­vel­op­ment ap­proach, ac­cel­er­at­ing the late-stage pipeline with se­lec­tive pur­chas­es, pos­es a re­al threat to the com­pa­nies Narasimhan choos­es to com­pete against. Zol­gens­ma is po­si­tioned against Bio­gen’s new — and des­per­ate­ly need­ed — block­buster Spin­raza. Brolu­cizum­ab tar­gets Re­gen­eron’s cash cow Eylea and Mayzent is the close­ly watched play­er in mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, with IP that some an­a­lysts have warned could prove to be a big hur­dle for ozan­i­mod — which could be painful for Cel­gene buy­er Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb.

Odd­ly, Narasimhan has al­so been forced to fight a rear guard ac­tion to main­tain con­trol of one of his new block­busters — Aimovig. Am­gen wants all those rights back, trig­ger­ing a dust up among al­lies. But No­var­tis will fight that one to the last lawyer.

If re­cent his­to­ry is a re­li­able guide on No­var­tis, Narasimhan’s up­com­ing ac­qui­si­tions may well set off alarms through­out the in­dus­try. He’s been tar­get­ing clear mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties, not pre­clin­i­cal, blue sky re­search. And that’s a threat — if he does it right.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

The top 15 mega-deals in bio­phar­ma: Ab­b­Vie and Bris­tol-My­ers ac­qui­si­tions stir fresh de­bate over what's too big to buy

The debate over what’s too big to buy in biotech is back. A number of top analysts went right after AbbVie’s rationale for the Allergan deal today, just as Bristol-Myers Squibb stirred immediate debate over the worth and wisdom of acquiring Celgene.

To help provide some added context to this discussion, we asked DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar to look over the past decade of major M&A in biopharma to decipher the top 15 plays.

The new numbers, unadjusted for inflation, harken back to the days of the Pfizer-Wyeth buyout and Merck’s decision to absorb Schering-Plough — both triggered in 2009. The heat over those acquisitions made the big pharma mega-deal highly unpopular for most everyone — except Pfizer — as industry leaders swore off almost all but the handy bolt-on acquisition.

Until recently.

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Eye­ing a $500M peak sales pot, Almi­rall dou­bles down on le­brik­izum­ab as Der­mi­ra lines up PhI­II

With eyes on what it be­lieves is a $500 mil­lion peak rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ty in Eu­rope, Barcelona-based Almi­rall has stepped up with $50 mil­lion in cash to take up the op­tion on Der­mi­ra’s IL-13 an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug le­brik­izum­ab just ahead of the start of Phase III. And there’s an­oth­er $30 mil­lion due as the late-stage pro­gram gets geared up.

That shouldn’t be long from now, as Der­mi­ra ex­pects to be­gin the late-stage tri­al work for atopic der­mati­tis be­fore the end of this year as it fol­lows a trail that ex­ecs in­sist leads to block­buster re­turns. Along the way, they’ll need to take on the 600-pound go­ril­la in atopic der­mati­tis: the IL-13/IL-4 drug Dupix­ent, from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ri­vals al­so in­clude Leo Phar­ma, in its piv­otal with tralok­izum­ab, and Anap­tys­Bio in the hunt with a mid-stage pro­gram for etokimab, pre­vi­ous­ly re­ferred to as ANB020.

Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.