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Biotechs choose Celgene, Novo Nordisk over pharma giants as preferred partners

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Big Pharma companies love to hear it when new industry surveys put them at the top of the industry heap as a go-to source for new licensing deals. But a new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) review found that smaller companies--specifically, Celgene ($CELG) and Novo Nordisk ($NVO)--now sometimes jump ahead of giants such as Merck ($MRK), Roche ($RHHBY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) as the industry's preferred partner of choice.

The allure of the Big Pharma companies has long been understood to center around deep pockets, powerhouse R&D efforts and long experience with the regulatory acts and commercialization. But BCG's new survey, unveiled at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, concludes that many of the traditional attractions of the giants have lost their luster, essentially getting "commoditized" along the way.

Those smaller companies are breaking out of the pack based on their increasing flexibility on deal terms and a better reputation for their executive teams. Novo Nordisk ranked second in the tally of all attributes, while Celgene came in on top for its "positive impression among core companies." That ranking might also have something to do with Celgene's willingness to put its cash where its mouth is.

But it wasn't all bad news for the pharma giants, either. GSK ranked high and Roche got the highest score on all partnering attributes. Merck was nominated most frequently for top partner, and AstraZeneca ($AZN), long a laggard in this survey, also finished in the top group of performers.

These changes in rankings, though, come as the top 10 pharma companies account for a shrinking percentage of deals. They now account for a minority number of pacts, says BCG, while licensing transactions overall remains steady.    

- here's the study from BCG

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