Biotech's Holiday Shopping Spree--Buy, Buy, Buy
The once clear distinction between discovery-based biotechs and specialty in-licensing companies is dissolving, as emphasis increases on ability to deliver margins and growth. Cephalon's acquisition of France's Group Lafon, for example, gives Cephalon--for a steep price--a foothold in one of Europe's largest markets, sales and marketing infrastructure, and the opportunity to capture hefty royalties that Cephalon has been paying to Lafon for rights to a key product.
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Versicor had wanted to buy its partner Biosearch Italia for more than a year prior to July's deal. But it had to wait for its market capitalization to fall closer in line with that of the Italian biotech so that the transaction could qualify as a "merger of equals."
Despite its CEO's professed distaste for biotech acquisitions, Amgen was willing to pay $16 billion for Immunex, in a bold move that ensures its growth momentum even as its key product, EPO, ages and its newly launched replacement faces uncertain prospects. Immunex makes a blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug, Enbrel, which it forecast will have sales of $4 billion by 2005. Amgen thinks it can drive Enbrel sales further, even though it is projecting a smaller market of $3 billion for the drug by 2005.
In part because of the 2000 investment bubble, in part because Wall Street has rewarded their growth prospects with comparatively high valuations, Small Pharmas and proto-pharmas increasingly have among themselves the financial power and technological diversity to furnish each other much of the resources Big Pharma used to provide almost oligopolistically. Just as important: they've got far more willingness and incentive to do so.