Over the past year, there were more than enough times when it felt like the world had stopped turning. Outside of unceasing demand for protective equipment, ventilator hardware and diagnostic tests, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many medical procedures to a standstill, which in turn halted the circulation of devices throughout the industry and slowed the rate of medtech mergers and acquisitions to a crawl.
In the first half of 2020, Evaluate Medtech tallied just 57 closed transactions, amounting to an anemic $1.9 billion—far under 2019’s already below-average figures, with 165 deals and nearly $50 billion changing hands.
But last summer the dam burst, and money flowed like it could make up for lost time.
Over three days in early August, Teladoc put down $18.5 billion for the digital disease management maven Livongo—a testament to the importance of telehealth, both now and in a post-COVID world—while Siemens offered $16.4 billion for Varian Medical Systems, a major cancer radiotherapy deal that’s still in the works.
Those two alone outpaced the sum value of 2018’s deals, approached 2019’s total, and were soon followed by Illumina’s $8 billion play to reacquire its former spinout, the cancer blood test developer Grail. But last August also saw Thermo Fisher fail to land the global diagnostics supplier Qiagen, with a $12.5 billion deal unraveling as the pandemic and its need for tests gave its quarry a new path to independent success.
Our list of 2020’s largest M&A transactions includes telehealth tie-ups, cancer testing deals and big plays in orthopedics, dentistry, drug delivery and biopharma development—including some coming just in time to greet a changing world, and others large enough to have their own ripple effects make the top 10.
But last year’s total may be dwarfed by 2021's, with a number of companies looking to spend the billion-dollar windfalls they’ve reaped during the pandemic.
Companies like Hologic and Thermo Fisher have seen diagnostics sales skyrocket, and they’re already spending the proceeds to help bolster their other core businesses. In January alone, Hologic inked back-to-back deals for the cancer tester Biotheranostics and the breast biopsy player Somatex, while Thermo Fisher picked up Novasep’s viral vector business and the portable COVID test developer Mesa Biotech—four deals in one month for over $1.6 billion. But will that pace hold?
And for an industry that relies and thrives on deals, will last year’s 10 largest set the stage for further growth after the pandemic subsides? Our list follows below.