Amgen Acquires Tularik and Small-Molecule Expertise
Amgen's acquisition of Tularik underscores how important the hunt for small molecules will be to Amgen's future. At the company's recent, first-ever R&D day, management chose not to highlight the fact that Amgen is now moving beyond proteins, its source of historic strength, into the realm of chemistry. But the company clearly is making fundamental changes to its research underpinnings--changes that Tularik can help it pull off.
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Amgen's revenue stream depends largely on just two molecules. It has spent loads of money on the search for replacements, but as yet has relatively little to show for it--at least, little that's been visible to those outside the company. To enlarge its opportunity set, Amgen is moving beyond its macromolecule-only heritage. A fresh cadre of executives, many from Merck, aim to add small-molecule capabilities and leverage corporate understanding of proteins and pathway biology. Amgen is also tapping into a host of other organizations whose technologies, targets, assays and very ways of thinking promise to make the firm more competitive than it could be on its own. While some investors think Amgen is making all the right moves, others are still concerned about the company's ability to bring enough new drugs to market, fast enough, to fill in behind its blockbuster proteins.
Biovitrum's record-breaking deal with Amgen--the largest licensing transaction by a European Biotech player to date-secures for Biovitrum the financial and strategic means to help it become a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company. The deal is also strategically important to Amgen, giving the company a way into the primary care segment. But the price and risk are high: there's no clinical proof of efficacy on the compound and there's no competitive compound on the market, or even in late-stage clinical trials, proving the value of the target. Thus the broader implication for the industry: as the costs of late-stage licensing become prohibitive-and the compounds themselves unavailable-in-licensers are increasingly looking to earlier-stage products to bolster their pipelines, with deal prices, and risks, rising correspondingly.
Things have been bleak on the discovery side of the dealmaking world, as evidenced by a paucity of Big Pharma alliances. But the Tularik/Amgen transaction indicates a renewed interest in target-stage transactions, though with the best prospects reserved for cancer focused companies with significant chemistry capabilities.