2019 saw more than 25 acquisition deals executed in the biotech sector, of which 14 were billion-dollar deals. And M&A activity still looks fairly lively in 2020 despite a somewhat subdued start as the industry adapted to the looming coronavirus pandemic.
The reason? Most, if not all, large-cap pharma and biotech companies are still in need of business development as they work to rebalance their operations. Many are coming off a challenging few years that featured a slowdown in mature products, thanks in part to increasing competition and rise of biosimilars.
With COVID-19 still hanging over the sector, many big players are making no secret of their desire to make the most of their in-house R&D programs while also keeping an eye out for quick, complementary bolt-on deals that can beef up pipelines.
Cancer, rare disease and, to a lesser extent, central nervous system players are targets that match up most closely with prospective buyers. Meanwhile, the scale of the industry’s product pipeline is at record highs, creating a big shop window for buyers to choose from.
Jared Holz, CPA, Healthcare Equity Strategy, Jefferies LLC—who was instrumental in helping Fierce Biotech come up with this year’s shortlist—says that while 2019 was remarkable for large-scale acquisitions, in 2020 “our sense is mid-size deals are more likely.”
He expects to see transactions in the $5 billion to $10 billion range and says many biotech companies who have often been featured on takeout lists—such as Seattle Genetics, Vertex Pharma and Regeneron—are likely too large in size now, and the window for any such deal has passed.
Among others on those lists, Alexion, BioMarin and Neurocrine Biosciences are probably at the higher end of the market-cap spectrum in terms of companies that could see themselves acquired by firms of greater size.
Looking a little beyond the companies on our top 10 list, other biotechs that could be the subject of deals include Arena Pharma, Avadel Pharma, Biohaven, Blueprint Medicines, Incyte, Karyopharm Therapeutics, Retrophin, SAGE Therapeutics, Sarepta, and uniQure.
Holz thinks the following large-cap firms are among those most likely to be active in M&A in the coming months: Amgen, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi.
Many of those companies are either already restructuring or are in need of it, and have management actively engaging with M&A as a tool for business development.