Biopharma M&A more than doubled in Q1 compared to the year prior: report

The number of biopharma M&A deals more than doubled in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period a year ago, exemplifying a top exit route for pre-commercial companies vying for validation and attention.

A new report from Leerink Partners released this week tallied 13 biopharma M&A deals in the first quarter of 2024 compared to six in the first quarter of 2023. There were 47 deals in the last twelve months through March 2024, compared to 42 through March 2023. 

The Leerink M&A team described persistent Big Pharma interest specifically in biotechs focusing on new cancer drugs, namely radiopharmaceutical and antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) makers. AstraZeneca made two deals in the oncology sphere while Merck offered bait to T-cell engager company, Harpoon Therapeutics. The report’s authors conclude that they expect M&A activity to stay hot through the rest of the year. 

Elsewhere, public companies that struggled to produce stellar data were able to find reverse merger partners, including Tectonic’s deal with AvroBio and LENZ's merger with Graphite Bio. The report notes that among 10 public-private mergers that have closed since the beginning of 2023, stock prices are up 29%. 

It was a record quarter for public companies looking to fluff their fiscal pillow with 54 registered offerings and 17 PIPEs raking in a combined $17 billion in proceeds.

Seven companies raised IPOs, bringing in roughly $1.5 billion, most of which occurred during a four-week period from the middle of January through the middle of February. More than half of that total amount raised however came from just two biotechs, namely CG Oncology and Kyverna Therapeutics, which combined brought in around $800 million. 

“Further, as potential IPOs continue to test the market, we expect high quality companies to actively evaluate sale transactions as an alternative exit for investors,” the report's authors said. 

The M&A landscape paints a rosier picture than some of the biotech indexes, namely the XBI, which is down more than 6% for the year and down nearly 18% since a high point at the end of February. Stubborn inflation figures have delayed a much-anticipated interest rate cut from the Federal Reserve, leaving investors slightly skittish. 

And don’t expect a mega deal anytime soon to rejuvenate morale, Leerink cautions. Challenges from regulators in 2023 mean another behemoth buyout—like Pfizer’s purchase of Seagen—isn’t likely.