Whether the pastime is baseball, Broadway or the daytime soaps, the old adage is that you can’t keep track of the players without a scorecard. The M&A front involving specialty pharma and generic drug makers has become similarly frenzied, as Canada’s acquisition-driven Valeant Pharmaceuticals sought after the newly minted Actavis, with Actavis then turning to a pursuit of Warner Chilcott once negotiations with Valeant broke down.
What, exactly, is going on here? And just as vitally, why?
Recall that the dust only recently settled on Actavis, the re-branded Watson Pharma, following the merger of those two firms last year. At an investor day presentation Jan. 25, CEO Paul Bisaro proclaimed that the new Actavis could boast a widened geographic footprint and a diversified portfolio comprising regular and branded generics, brand-name pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter products.
With the Watson/Actavis combination, the resulting company merely was trying to keep pace in a consolidating generics industry that had seen sector-leader Teva continually branching out into branded drugs and perhaps biosimilars and Mylan increasing its capabilities and geographic reach via a run of targeted deal-making.
In late April, reports surfaced that talks of a merger between Valeant and Actavis had collapsed, apparently due to Actavis shareholder concerns over valuation. Actavis has been a centerpiece of Wall Street discussion in recent months, due to a consistently rising share price. (Or has the conversation lifted the share price? A chicken vs. egg conundrum, to be sure.) The stock opened trading March 1 at $85.17, and rose to $92.33 on April 1 and to $105.24 on May 1. At the close of trading on May 16, Actavis’ stock price stood at $123.61.
Meanwhile, it was not necessarily clear who was the suitor in the Valeant/Actavis talks, although the safer bet seemed to be Valeant, helmed by acquisition-hungry CEO Michael Pearson. A Wall Street investment analyst said that the Valeant/Actavis talks seemed to be the catalyst for the resulting Actavis/Warner Chilcott rumors as well as possibly emerging interest in buying out Actavis from Mylan and from Novartis.
“We know that Valeant is an aggressive negotiator in terms of valuation,” the analyst said. “Going by their track record, they’re not going to pay some kind of excessive premium. The question we had was if nothing happened, did Valeant learn something really negative about Actavis during its due diligence?”
The analyst opined that the talks might have been a power-play by Bisaro himself, with the Actavis CEO picturing himself as the leader of a combined company with Valeant. “If Bisaro is talking with Pearson and trying to sell the business for $120 a share, isn’t he sending a signal that the game is up?,” asked our source. “Now, Bisaro might be saying Actavis is undervalued and going to do all these things, but his wallet is doing the talking. Actions speak louder than words, and they’re saying now is the time to pull the ripcord on the parachute.”
But if Valeant was the pursuer, Actavis’ current gambit for Warner Chilcott might have a “poison pill” element, an effort to make Actavis too rich for the Canadian specialty pharma to swallow. “It seems too coincidental that this happened so quickly after the Valeant story,” the analyst said.
In any event, the analyst perceives an Actavis/Warner Chilcott merger as highly likely, given how much the Irish firm has to lose if it puts itself up for sale and fails for a second year in a row. It would broaden Actavis’ portfolio in women’s health and dermatology and a strong sales force that could bolster Actavis’ commercial capabilities. What’s more, a reverse merger would domicile the resulting business in Ireland, providing tax advantages.
More elements were added to the story mid-week: Pittsburgh-based Mylan was reported to have made a roughly $15 billion offer to acquire Actavis, and then multinational pharma Novartis was said to be weighing its own bid. Novartis later publicly denied interest in Actavis, however. - Joseph Haas
The final chapters of that story remain to be written, but other biopharma deal-making has come to fruition in the latest installment of …
Elan/Theravance: In one of the more interesting deals of the past week, or for that matter the year, Elan announced a deal May 13 in which it agreed to pay Theravance $1 billion upfront in exchange for a portion of the potential future royalty payments it will receive from four respiratory programs partnered with Theravance. It’s a hefty up-front that many analysts believe exceeds the value of the interest Elan would acquire. The deal is the first of several Elan plans to make as it looks to reinvent the company through licensing and acquisitions. The announcement also comes as Elan looks to push back a hostile takeover bid from Royalty Pharma. Under Irish takeover law, the Theravance deal will require approval from investors, who already are considering an $11.25 per share buyout offer from Royalty. Elan would gain a 21% interest in potential future royalty payments to Theravance from GSK on four partnered respiratory drugs, including Breo Ellipta, which was approved by FDA May 10 for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It also includes Anoro Ellipta, a combination of vilanterol with the LAMA umeclidinium, which is pending at FDA with a Dec. 18 user fee date, as well as in a bifunctional muscarinic antagonist-beta1 agonist (MABA) monotherapy and vilanterol monotherapy, both in development. For Theravance, the deal would have been hard to refuse given the rich terms, even though the company recently announced a separation to form one entity to manage the royalty revenue stream from Breo. Management said the arrangement will complement the company’s previously announced plan to separate into two companies. The firm said April 25 it will split into two entities, a royalty company called Royalty Management. Co. with a focus on near-term profitability and returning capital to shareholders, and Theravance Biopharma, a research-focused biopharmaceutical company. - Jessica Merrill
Alvine/AbbVie: On May 14, AbbVie signed its second deal since spinning out from parent company Abbott Laboratories in January, this time with San Carlos, Calif.-based biotech Alvine Pharmaceuticals. AbbVie agreed to pay $70 million upfront for an option to either acquire Alvine outright or license all of the assets related to its lead compound ALV003 for the treatment of celiac disease. The disease, which is characterized by gastrointestinal inflammation due to the ingestion of gluten-containing foods, affects about 3 million Americans and currently has no treatment options other than limiting gluten intake. ALV003 has completed a Phase IIa study and Alvine is prepared to take the drug through a 500-patient Phase IIb study, slated to read out in late 2014. Should AbbVie opt into the program, it will pay a “substantial” option fee, as well as further near-term milestone payments. The amount of those payments was not disclosed. The relationship between Alvine and AbbVie has a rich history; AbbVie’s venture arm (then Abbott Biotech Ventures) backed the biotech in May 2010 when it invested an undisclosed amount. AbbVie’s funds were an extension of Alvine’s Series A – the initial tranche was $21 million in 2006 led by Sofinnova Ventures with additional participation from Prospect Venture Partners, InterWest Partners, Cargill Ventures and Flagship Ventures. Another $21.5 million was raised when Panorama Capital and Black River Asset Management joined the syndicate in 2009. - Lisa LaMotta
RuiYi/Genor/CMC Biologics: China-U.S. hybrid RuiYi announced May 16 a series of partnerships to develop RYI-008, a novel anti-interleukin-6 monoclonal antibody in China to treat autoimmune disease and cancer. Formerly Anaphore, the hybrid is 90% a Chinese company, and about 10% U.S.-based, CEO Paul Grayson said. RuiYi conducts research at a facility in the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Pudong Shanghai, China, with only its executive management team based in offices in La Jolla, Calif. The antibody, in preclinical development now, will be developed first in China, and the company has forged a partnership with three other companies to get it there. China has said it would make biotech innovation a priority, but few companies have been bold enough to develop innovative biologics in the country, choosing instead to focus on biosimilars and generics for China, Grayson said. RYI-008, formerly ARGX-109, was in-licensed from Belgian/Dutch biotech arGEN-X in October 2012. RuiYi inked an exclusive licensing and co-development agreement with Shanghai-based Genor Biopharma to develop RYI-008 in China. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. The company was chosen partly due to its close relationship with China FDA and its deep knowledge of China’s regulatory environment. Founded in 2007, Genor is focused on development and commercialization of therapeutic mAbs and Fc-fusion proteins. The company has more than 10 products in its pipeline, three of which are at IND and clinical stages. Danish contract manufacturer CMC Biologics will develop a cell line for RYI-008 for global manufacturing in all markets. Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed. - Tamra Sami
Roche/Curie-Cancer: France’s Curie-Cancer and Roche announced May 15 that they are building upon a four-year partnership to expand their translational research programs and hasten development of new cancer treatments. In 2009, they agreed to partner around a preclinical research program which gave Roche access to a platform of preclinical models developed by the research teams at the Institut Curie. Curie-Cancer develops Institut Curie’s industry partnership activities. The Roche Institute for Research and Translational Medicine is the Swiss group’s arm there which aims to identify leading French academic research teams and build partnerships with them in areas of shared interest. The initial partnership gave Roche access to preclinical models that are highly representative of the tumors observed in patients. Using the platform, Roche determined in which sub-type of breast cancer an antibody was most effective. The Institut Curie also owns the Reverse Phase Protein Analysis platform, which gives researchers better understanding of how a Roche antibody works on the cancer cells at the molecular level, and also helps to identify predictive response markers. Curie-Cancer and Roche currently are working on a number of translational research programs involving Roche molecules that make use of the same technology. For example, a team of Curie-Cancer clinicians, anatomopathologists and researchers are working on developing a new Roche molecule targeting tumors. No financial details of the partnership were disclosed. - Sten Stovall
Quintiles/Merck Serono: Merck-Serono and newly public CRO Quintiles Transnational announced May 15 a five-year strategic collaboration that appears to go beyond the typical consolidation which the provider services industry’s larger pharmaceutical companies have pursued over the past few years. The deal, which the companies described as “first of its kind,” will create a drug-development engine by combining “expertise and experience” from the two organizations. Merck-Serono will lead strategically while Quintiles will handle the nuts and bolts of clinical trial planning and execution. In short, this is about more than saving money for Merck-Serono, a company that apparently is saving quite a bit these days. The mid-sized pharma’s parent company Merck KGAA reported May 14 during its quarterly earnings call that it was ahead of schedule in executing on its restructuring – which involved the closure of Merck-Serono’s Geneva headquarters – and that it would move forward its financial targets from 2014 to this year. Merck-Serono Executive VP and Global Head of Development and Medicine Annalisa Jenkins said that the partnership transcends the typical preferred-partnership outsourcing model. The deal moves beyond trading volume for “a better rate card,” she said. Quintiles has the benefit of seeing across different companies throughout industry, she said, and of integrating that knowledge, adding, “it’s remarkable that we don’t make a greater attempt to embrace and integrate that knowledge in how industry plans and executes studies.” The Merck-Serono/Quintiles tie-up does just that, she said, and “financially the incentives are set up to drive to more efficient decision making.” Specifics of the financials weren’t disclosed. The deal is Quintiles’ first since its public market debut May 8. The industry’s largest CRO and its existing investors sold more than 27 million shares combined at $40 apiece, raising about $950 million (Quintiles netted about $500 million). - Chris Morrison
AbbVie/Galapagos: AbbVie made further news May 17 when it and partner Galapagos announced that they will extend their 2012 collaboration centered on GLPG0634, a Phase II Janus kinase inhibitor, to development in Crohn’s disease. Under the revised agreement, the Belgian biotech will fund and complete a Phase II trial in Crohn’s, which should facilitate rapid progression into Phase III. AbbVie will pay Galapagos $50 million upon completion of the study, expected in mid-2015. Galapagos will initiate what is planned as a 20-week, Phase IIa/b study of ‘0634 in Crohn’s patients in early 2014, investigating for both disease remission and early maintenance of the drug’s beneficial effects. The study will be performed in parallel with a Phase IIb study in rheumatoid arthritis, pursuant to the agreement Galapagos signed with then Abbott Laboratories in February 2012. At the time, Abbott paid $150 million upfront with a commitment for $200 million more if the JAK inhibitor met pre-determined criteria in Phase II study in RA. - J.A.H.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons