JPM kicks off with fevered focus on the next big biotech deal

The news of the Bristol-Myers/Inhibitex deal couldn't have been better timed. With the biotech world converging on San Francisco today for the annual JP Morgan confab, there's nothing like a 10-figure deal to get everyone whipped up about the potential for making it big in drug development. And this year you can expect to hear plenty of discussion about another year where deal-making will be at the top of the agenda for the biopharma business.

So who's next? Ever since the $11 billion Pharmasset ($VRUS) buyout, tongues have been wagging about the next likely takeout. And now that Inihibitex ($INHX) has found a buyer and agreed to a price, Idenix ($IDIX) and Achillion have emerged as the next two biotechs most likely to find themselves asking for more at the bargaining table. Both developers helped feed the rumor mill today with some positive updates on their hep C programs.

Edward Tenthoff, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, has tapped Vertex ($VRTX), J&J ($JNJ), Merck ($MRK), Boehringer Ingelheim, Abbott ($ABT), Pfizer ($PFE) and Novartis ($NVS) as potential buyers, a list that is too long to be completely wrong. Brian Skorney would add Roche ($RHHBY) to the list of hep C bidders, which would help to further inflate any final price being paid for a remaining biotech player.

Bloomberg, which loves to feast on buyout rumors, helped prime the discussion pump in advance by speculating that a pair of big biotechs--Amgen ($AMGN) and Celgene ($CELG)--could make deal-making even hotter this year if they kick off a big round of buyouts to excite fretting investors about their future.

The problem is that the early-January JPM hype almost never lives up to the reality. The most exciting thing that could happen to biotech this year would be a big IPO for a drug developer with all its assets in the clinic. That kind of trend would really help inspire investors to sink cash into biotechnology. And there's no firm indication that this year will be all that different from the bleak reality of the past three years.  

- here's the story from Bloomberg