M&A in­fla­tion just pushed the av­er­age bio­phar­ma val­u­a­tion to a scary new peak

John Roun­tree

The con­sul­tants at No­va­sec­ta have been crunch­ing the num­bers on bio­phar­ma M&A for the past few years and con­clud­ed that a lot more of these deals are weigh­ing in so heav­i­ly in­flat­ed now that many buy­ers would be bet­ter off look­ing for oth­er ways to grow their busi­ness­es and their pipelines.

Look­ing at each deal as a mul­ti­ple of rev­enue for the ac­quired com­pa­ny, the Lon­don-based con­sul­tan­cy says that the me­di­an val­ue of a buy­out last year was 39 times rev­enue. Com­pare that to a me­di­an 19 times rev­enue in 2015 and 8 times rev­enue in 2014, and you get a point­ed pic­ture of the fresh peak that’s been cre­at­ed in val­u­a­tions.

Ze­ro­ing in on the amount paid rel­a­tive to sales rev­enue was a good proxy for rep­re­sent­ing the in­creas­ing amount that com­pa­nies are pay­ing for all their new as­sets, both on the mar­ket or still in the clin­ic. In an email ex­change, No­va­sec­ta Man­ag­ing Part­ner John Roun­tree tells me:

•The mul­ti­ple com­bine the two things go­ing on in M&A, one is the amount you have to pay to ac­quire a cer­tain amount of rev­enue, which is clear­ly up, and the sec­ond is that when rev­enue is low­er (i.e. most­ly pipeline val­ue) you are tak­ing more risk and bet­ting on the hope that your ac­qui­si­tion will pay off.

•To get a good-sized sam­ple and long-term trend we al­so looked at two co­horts of deal-mak­ing – 2009–2011 and 2014-2016 (five years lat­er).  This part of our analy­sis clear­ly shows that the mul­ti­ples are up across the board, so even when the com­pa­ny is not tak­ing on the risk of ear­ly-stage hope, they are al­so pay­ing much more for on-mar­ket rev­enue.

•So we don’t ex­plic­it­ly val­ue the ear­ly-stage pro­grams, this is in the eye of the be­hold­er, the is­sue is that ac­quir­ers are pay­ing more than they used to for ear­ly-stage gen­er­al­ly across the board.

That as­sess­ment may al­so help ex­plain why 2016 fell far short of over­all M&A ex­pec­ta­tions, as some com­pa­nies you’d ex­pect to be in the buy­er col­umn — hel­lo, Gilead — have steered clear of ac­qui­si­tions.

Any­one look­ing for spe­cif­ic ex­am­ples of how this trend is play­ing out in par­tic­u­lar deals need on­ly look at Al­ler­gan’s buy­out of To­bi­ra or Pfiz­er’s $14 bil­lion Medi­va­tion ac­qui­si­tion, which in­clud­ed a big share of a mar­ket­ed drug as well as a promi­nent ex­per­i­men­tal med. J&J’s prospec­tive ac­qui­si­tion of Acte­lion will do noth­ing to pop this par­tic­u­lar bub­ble.

“The bot­tom line is that the era of cheap cap­i­tal since 2008 has led to a sig­nif­i­cant in­fla­tion in deal val­ues across the board,” Roun­tree adds, “which can be great for the ac­quired com­pa­ny share­hold­ers but ques­tion­able for the ac­quir­er’s share­hold­ers.

“Our con­clu­sion is that though some deals will end up be­ing great for both par­ties, many are at over-in­flat­ed prices, and the ac­quir­ing com­pa­nies would do bet­ter to fo­cus on fix­ing their own shops and en­ter­ing in­to part­ner­ships where they need ex­tra ca­pa­bil­i­ty rather than ex­pen­sive M&A.”

Don’t look for the end of this trend in 2017 as Big Phar­ma waits for Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to fol­low through with a high­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed move to al­low the multi­na­tion­als to repa­tri­ate bil­lions in over­seas cash.

“Our sense is that 2017 is un­like­ly to see a de­crease in the prices paid, per­haps they will go high­er yet: there is a lot of mon­ey in the ecosys­tem seek­ing the high re­turns that suc­cess­ful in­no­va­tion can cre­ate,” notes Roun­tree. “The price of rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing deals will be­come pro­hib­i­tive due to lack of sup­ply, ex­cept for those with ex­treme­ly strong bal­ance sheets or very pa­tient share­hold­ers or both.”

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AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

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