The top 20 pre­clin­i­cal biotech deals ranked by cash up­front re­veals 3 big play­ers — and some ma­jor league stinkers

No­var­tis’s de­ci­sion to pay up to $1.6 bil­lion for a late pre­clin­i­cal pro­gram — set­ting aside that first dos­ing in a healthy vol­un­teer tri­al on Fri­day — is re­mark­able for sev­er­al rea­sons. But one of the stand­outs is the amount of cash in­volved: $310 mil­lion up­front.

Dis­cov­ery and pre­clin­i­cal deals are best known for back-end­ing the mon­ey in mile­stones, lim­it­ing the amount of fi­nan­cial risk in an in­dus­try where pre­clin­i­cal rates of suc­cess can be ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly lean. If you nev­er make it in­to Phase II, well, the ma­jor league play­ers usu­al­ly arrange to take a mod­est hit with­out won­der­ing if any­one will hold them to task for it.

No­var­tis joined some rare com­pa­ny in mov­ing a sub­stan­tial part of the deal mon­ey to cash. We asked Deal­For­ma chief Chris Doko­ma­ji­lar to run the pre­clin­i­cal num­bers, which you’ll find for li­cens­ing and M&A deals com­bined in a top 20 and then split in­to two lists of their own.

Three bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies dom­i­nate the list of high rollers. No­var­tis makes the top 20 three times, along­side match­ing records as a buy­er for Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and Cel­gene, which are be­ing mashed to­geth­er in a buy­out that will per­ma­nent­ly al­ter the land­scape on pre­clin­i­cal risk tak­ing.

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