2004: Consolidation Year for European Biotech?
Despite investors' pleas, most observers agree there are still far too many small, sub-critical biotech firms in Europe. Yet two late-2003 deals-CeNeS' acquisition of TheraSci, and Develogen's merger with Peptor-may point to more consolidation both in public and private European biotech during 2004. And the early signs are that such deals may be driven less by sheer desperation, and more by a recognition of what both public and private investors want.
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A handful of European biotechnology companies is embracing development shortcuts that were once the exclusive provenance of specialty pharmaceutical firms. Shedding traditional biotech start-up discovery models, these firms aim to identify, reformulate and incrementally improve existing products. The hope is that low risk needn't be low reward; in the process these so-called reprofilers of existing therapies may indeed spark an increase in industry productivity. The trick, observers say, is finding and getting their hands on the right products.
Consolidation among Europe's biotech firms is picking up, but less for strategic reasons than simply to secure the cash to survive. Whatever the drivers, though, and however ruthless the concurrent cost- and program cutting, M&A should help create better adapted, bigger companies-something investors have long been calling for. Indeed for most merging companies, M&A is just the first step towards more strategic business-building moves in the near future.
At first sight, CeNeS' decision to sell a guaranteed product revenue stream--the envy of most cash-strapped biotechs these days--may look odd. But in exchange, the UK biotech gets the lump sum it needs to take its own two late-stage products forward, and a chance, at least, of generating the sort of upside investors have bet on.