Who’s in line for the next big mega-merg­er? Morn­ingstar hand­i­caps the odds among the top play­ers

The M&A deals we’ve al­ready seen in Q1 have whet­ted an­a­lysts’ ap­petite for much, much more. And Morn­ingstar has come up with its break­down of the top buy­ers like­ly scour­ing the in­dus­try for takeovers — as well as the top tar­gets.

And more mega-merg­ers, they say, are very much on the ta­ble in 2019.

Lack of growth through 2022 at Am­gen and Gilead, in com­bi­na­tion with healthy ex­pect­ed cash flows and fair fi­nan­cial health, gives them the de­sire and am­mu­ni­tion for large-scale deals, al­though the best pair­ings (Am­gen/As­tra and Gilead/Re­gen­eron) are made less like­ly by the strong val­u­a­tions of their in­tend­ed tar­gets. J&J, Mer­ck, and Pfiz­er al­so have the abil­i­ty and de­sire to bol­ster their port­fo­lios with big­ger deals, and their shares are rel­a­tive­ly strong cur­ren­cy; we think the Mer­ck/Lil­ly fit is strong enough to counter Lil­ly’s high­er val­u­a­tion, and Pfiz­er could con­sid­er buy­ing Bris­tol af­ter the Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion if val­u­a­tions re­main com­pelling, as this would great­ly ex­pand its on­col­o­gy port­fo­lio and pipeline. No­var­tis could raise enough cash to do a large deal fol­low­ing the Al­con spin-off and the po­ten­tial sale of its stake in Roche, and Ab­b­Vie could be an in­ter­est­ing fit for its on­col­o­gy and im­munol­o­gy port­fo­lios. We think Ab­b­Vie (sig­nif­i­cant debt, un­der­val­ued shares) and Roche (strong pipeline, fo­cused on on­col­o­gy tuck-ins) will stick to small­er deals, and Sanofi is like­ly to con­tin­ue its rare-dis­ease fo­cus with So­bi (the oth­er half of Biover­a­tiv’s busi­ness) and Bio­Marin (rare dis­ease with gene ther­a­py ex­per­tise).

Now for the tar­gets in play:

Ab­b­Vie, Am­gen, and Gilead are present on both our ac­quir­er and tar­get lists, as they have sig­nif­i­cant growth is­sues but al­so com­pelling pipelines and, in the case of Ab­b­Vie and Gilead, are un­der­val­ued. We think Bio­gen could be a tar­get for a num­ber of firms, as its neu­rol­o­gy fo­cus, strong pipeline, and un­der­val­ued shares would make it a very large-scale tuck-in ac­qui­si­tion. Bio­Marin is small enough to be ac­quired by any of the oth­er names, and its rare-dis­ease fo­cus and gene ther­a­py are ar­eas of high in­ter­est in the in­dus­try. Re­gen­eron isn’t a per­fect fit with all firms, and its shares look fair­ly val­ued, but strong Eylea cash flows, po­ten­tial block­buster sales in pain, and a large, ear­ly-stage on­col­o­gy pipeline could be ap­peal­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly as Re­gen­eron and Sanofi have re­cent­ly de­fined their im­muno-on­col­o­gy col­lab­o­ra­tion and giv­en Re­gen­eron full rights to sev­er­al pro­grams.

There’s been plen­ty of crit­i­cism of the mega-merg­ers that oc­curred a decade or more ago. But Morn­ingstar says things could be dif­fer­ent this time around:

Strate­gi­cal­ly, while megamerg­ers of­ten fail to see the cost syn­er­gies laid out at the deal’s an­nounce­ment and can be cost­ly for R&D pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, we think they do put firms in a bet­ter po­si­tion to fight con­sol­i­da­tion among pay­ers and PBMs, if done smart­ly. That is, gain­ing ac­cess to a larg­er port­fo­lio of drugs in a giv­en ther­a­peu­tic area gives a drug firm more lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate prices on drugs in that port­fo­lio, as deny­ing one drug could mean high­er prices for the re­main­ing port­fo­lio. Firms with­out a clear ther­a­peu­tic area fo­cus may al­so be more like­ly to do deals.

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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As­traZeneca gains EU nod for di­a­betes triple; Am­gen and Duke launch re­al-world PC­SK9 ob­ser­va­tion­al study

→ Weeks after winning EU approval to start marketing dapagliflozin as Forxiga, AstraZeneca has racked up another OK for a triplet combo involving the SGLT2 diabetes drug. Named Qtrilmet, the pill combines Forxiga with the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin) and the bedrock drug metformin in a modified-release format. That 3-in-1 approach proved superior in reducing average blood glucose levels to a number of other dual combinations across 5 Phase III trials, including Forxiga plus metformin, Onglyza with metformin, or glimepiride with metformin.

Five drugs, in­clud­ing two No­var­tis ther­a­pies, win EMA en­dorse­ment

As is custom, an EMA panel on Friday issued its weekly recommendations on marketing applications submitted by drug developers. This week, the agency backed the use of five new therapies — including two Novartis drugs — but issued no negative reviews.

Novartis’ S1P drug for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Mayzent (known chemically as siponimod), which was approved by the FDA in March — has been given the nod by the EMA. The Swiss drugmaker already sells its other MS drug, Gilenya, in both regions.

Atom­wise's X-37 spin­out gets $14.5 mil­lion to launch AI dis­cov­ery ef­forts

The folks behind Atomwise’s spinout X-37 like to think in cosmological metaphors, and you can think of their AI drug development model as probes sent into space from a central station. That station just got $14.5 million in Series A funding from DCVC Bio, Alpha Intelligence Capital and Hemi Ventures to back those missions.

X-37 uses Atomwise’s AI platform to identify drug targets and – unlike the parent company, which largely sticks to computers  – bring those into a wet lab and preclinical testing.  In addition to AI professionals, it’s led in by part by drug developers from Velocity Pharmaceutical Development.

Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

UCB adds on more pos­i­tive PhI­II da­ta for IL-17A/17F in­hibitor bimek­izum­ab, clear­ing a path to the FDA

A month after posting positive top-line data from their first Phase III trial of the IL-17A/17F inhibitor bimekizumab, Belgium’s UCB says they’ve added more upbeat results from their second late-stage test in moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis.

That leaves the company on track for regulatory submissions in the middle of next year, says CMO Iris Loew-Friedrich.
Their drug beat out a placebo on the co-primaries — a 90% improvement in PASI 90 (the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index) and Investigator Global Assessment (IGA) response of clear or almost clear (IGA 0/1) at week 16, compared to placebo. Investigators also boasted of hitting some key secondaries.
UCB is angling to enter an increasingly crowded market space.
In their first of 3 Phase III studies for bimekizumab, researchers touted top-line wins on statistically significant results on clearing plaque psoriasis, including a victory over J&J’s IL-23 contender Stelara on key endpoints. The drug targets both IL-17A and IL-17F, a modification on the IL-17A strategy laid out for Taltz (Eli Lilly) and Cosentyx (Novartis). And the new group also includes J&J’s Tremfya and AbbVie’s Skyrizi.

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