Cytyc and Digene Strike a Deal
Both Cytyc and Digene have hurdles to overcome. Skeptics fear that Cytyc, which has FDA approval for its monolayer sampling technology for cervical cancer screening, may never be more than a one-product company. And Digene, lacking sufficient sales and marketing presence in clinicians' offices, is progressing slower than many had hoped it would; it still has to clearly define the role of HPV (human papilloma virus) in cervical cancer detection and its utility as a broad screen versus what experts call "a triage tool." By entering into an exclusive agreement, the companies hope to address these issues.
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Cytyc purchased Proxima Therapeutics, a brachytherapy company with a device to treat breast cancer, for $160 million in cash, following on its acquisition last year of Novacept, a manufacturer of a minimally-invasive endometrial ablation device to treat excessive menstrual bleeding. Three years earlier, Cytyc had acquired Pro-Duct Health, developer of a new test to assess the breast cancer risk of an at-risk patient. Cytyc is clearly going in the direction of creating an overall franchise in women's health, integrating diagnostics and therapeutics, both above and below the belt. But investors want to know that deals don't simply represent a piecemeal, opportunistic approach to business development, but that they fit together in a larger context. It's all about leveraging Cytyc's distribution channel in women's health, says CEO Patrick Sullivan.
As a small company with a strong presence in its niche, Cytyc receives a high multiple for its revenues, which gives it the equity for M&A. And both it and Digene, another player in cervical cancer screening, knew they could realize strategic synergies by combining and leveraging product offerings and marketing and distribution channels. But whether or not Cytyc succeeds in driving the growth of Digene's test for HPV, the cause of cervical cancer, and uses Digene's Hybrid Capture platform technology to enable a broader play in women's health, Cytyc is demonstrating an ability to craft potentially transforming deals-the kind a larger diagnostics or medical device company can't easily make by acquiring line extensions in niche markets.
Dealmaking in the device industry is occasional and incremental when compared with the level of activity in pharmaceuticals, the result of that industry's maturing into a handful of dominant players, not all of which see acquisitions as strategically critical to their long-term success. The less-than-robust public market for small device companies is both symptom and cause of the device dealmaking lull. Because the markets they target are generally too small to sustain years of significant growth, few investors are willing to invest in them as stand-alone companies. And without long-term investor support, smaller firms have few options other than to sell out to large companies and little negotiating leverage when they do so.