Biotech acquisitions scale new heights

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Big pharma, Biogen idec, Carl icahn, Astrazeneca

Big pharma's lust for biotech's pipelines appears to be continuing
unabated with a record $27bn-worth of acquisitions and licensing
deals being made last year.

The figure comes from a report by the consulting firm Ernst & Young which predicts the trend will continue as big pharma wrestles with the loss of patent protection on blockbuster products and reduced in-house innovation. Pharmaceuticals with roughly $20bn in sales are expected to come off patent in 2008 and the new products coming through do not currently appear capable of filling this chasm in the companies' profits. Consequently the authors of the report stated: "One or more mega acquisitions of mature biotechnology companies along the lines witnessed with MedImmune - and nearly seen with Biogen Idec in 2007 - is likely​. "The negotiating power in these situations remains with the emerging company, so expect to see a continuation of high deal valuations​." This highlights the difficulty pharmaceutical companies face when looking to bolster their biotech portfolios. The industry is keenly attuned to biotech firms with potential and the resultant bidding war has seen prices driven up to unprecedented levels. Despite this it seems the pharmaceutical industry will continue its shift towards biotech focused portfolios. The pace of this change remains to be seen, with the avalanche of acquisitions that analysts have predicted for years never quite materialising. Over half of the total value of last year's acquisitions was accounted for by AstraZeneca's $15.6bn purchase of MedImmune. A truly colossal year would have been witnessed had Biogen, with a market value of roughly $19bn, been acquired late last year. An additional $20bn from the Biogen deal would have seen 2007 dwarf the 2006 total of $23bn. There is still a possibility that the acquisition of Biogen will cause a bumper 2008, with shareholder Carl Icahn said to be pushing for the sale of the company. However, there is some dispute over the cost efficiency of such mega acquisitions, with some analysts feeling that better value is extracted from smaller deals. It seems likely that deals across the whole spectrum will go through in the coming months. Which of these deals pays off remains somewhat of a lottery but with big pharma faltering it is a risk they are clearly willing to take.

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