Dealmaking Along the Faultlines
Big Pharma's valuations are depressed; biotech is red-hot. Alliance volumes have fallen, but average deal values are up. The valuation divide masks the subtler cracks dividing biotech's elite from a mass of undifferentiated technology providers. Drug companies are recognizing that basing discovery programs around new, proprietary targets is highly risky and lengthens R&D time. Targets themselves, absent optimized lead compounds, are increasingly commoditized. Therefore, companies who don't provide integrated discovery capabilities aren't going to get the high-value deals that will justify their current, sky-high valuations. Meanwhile, companies with integrated solutions must back up their promises of productivity enhancement with their own money--though they also get a richer share of the end proceeds.
You may also be interested in...
Bristol-Myers Squibb's licensing arrangement for ImClone's Erbitux--both its upfront cash value and its subsequent level of disappointment--continues to define the industry's late-stage dealmaking. Genta's development and marketing alliance with Aventis for Genta's phase III anti-cancer chemosensitizer, Genasense, is no exception: the deal is both bigger, and smaller, than it might once have been had BMS and ImClone not stirred up the dealmaking pot. The Genta product was one of the only remaining unpartnered, important late-stage cancer projects available from a biotech company. It commanded a hefty price --at $135 million in upfront and near-term assured cash terms, and another $345 million in milestones. Before ImClone, Aventis says, it could have gotten this deal for less money. But if the ImClone transaction hadn't gone suddenly south (the FDA in December refused to accept ImClone's BLA submission for Erbitux), Aventis might also have had to pay far more.
The notion of building up a new drug company with the unwanted, undersized products of ever-bigger Big Pharma is hardly new. But MedPointe, with its acquisition of Carter Wallace's medical products business, is aiming to build up a new firm faster and bigger than can be done simply by in-licensing.
The industry's decade long search for novel drugs with novel mechanisms of action has increased the risk of drug discovery; meanwhile, new technologies have not significantly improved productivity. One result: enormous pressure to find late-stage products, and extraordinary prices for them, best exemplified by Bristol's $2 billion purchase of rights to ImClone's cancer antibody. And while these prices don't necessarily reflect the values of the particular drug, but far more important defensive issues, they nonetheless raise the pricing umbrella for all late-stage transactions, forcing buyers, in the short-term, to figure new ways of amortizing these increasingly costly investments. Meanwhile, the industry has seen a sharp decline in the number of early-stage transactions, reflecting the fact that such deals have not improved new-product productivity but have in fact increased R&D risk, or at least not decreased it. A number of relatively young biology companies are therefore exploiting valuation disparities to buy older chemistry firms in order to create integrated discovery platforms, on the model of Vertex and Millennium. These newer acquisitive biotechs hope to leverage the platform and sign the same kind of high-value deals the older firms have, but to do so far sooner in their corporate lives. Meanwhile, companies founded around predictive technologies aim to provide the R&D (and potentially marketplace) risk reduction Big Pharma wants in return for collaborations that give them the discovery assets they don't have. But apart from a few high value deals, Big Pharma hasn't yet bit. A few companies aim to amortize the risk of their R&D investment by broadening their goals from small molecule therapeutics to less traditional areas, including diagnostics.