2018 was a landmark year for pharma, biotech sector; 2019 looks even better

2018 was a landmark year for pharma, biotech sector; 2019 looks even better

By Team PharmaCompass

31 Jan 2019View: 1433

2018 was a landmark year for pharma, biotech sector; 2019 looks even better

In 2018, each month PharmaCompass published PharmaFlow — a compilation of all the major deals in the industry that took place in the preceding month. We begin 2019 with our annual compilation of the deals of 2018, packed with some exciting trends for the future.

Undoubtedly, 2018 was a landmark year for dealmaking in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector. As per our analysis, each month of the year saw over 100 deals in the sector.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

It was also a big year for venture capital investments. Data shows annual venture capital investments across all sectors surpassed US$10 billion for the first time in 2018, since the dot-com era of 2000. The pharma and biotech sector, in particular, saw approximately 700 venture capital deals, reaching US$ 17 billion in value — making 2018 the biggest year for venture capital deals in the sector.

As the future strategy of major pharmaceutical companies came into question and the drug pricing debate dominated news headlines, companies like Novartis, Sanofi, GSK and Takeda announced deals that will fundamentally transform the way they do business in the future.  

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)



The biggest deal of 2018 turned out to be Cigna’s acquisition of Express Scripts 
 

As the healthcare shakeout in the United States continued, the largest deal of 2018 proved to be health insurer Cigna Corporation’s acquisition of pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Express Scripts Holding for around US$ 67 billion. When the deal was announced, the acquisition was considered to be in response to the increasing frustration over drug pricing. The deal is expected to give the two companies substantial bargaining power over drug prices in the US.

Healthcare spending has been rising rapidly, accounting for an estimated 18 percent of the US economy in 2017. PBMs, such as Express Scripts, negotiate drug benefits for insurance plans and employers. The deal could help Cigna compete with players like CVS Health Corp and UnitedHealth Group Inc.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)



A year of new CEOs charting out new strategies at Big Pharma
 

The year clearly belonged to the new CEOs, who were busy charting new directions for their drug companies. In March 2018, Andrew Witty, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline who retired from the British drug major in 2017, announced he was taking a leadership role in managing drug benefits of UnitedHealth’s Optum division, a PBM group and healthcare analytics company which has 140,000 staffers around the world. 

Andrew Witty’s replacement at GSK, Emma Walmsley, had a busy year as she worked on developing a future course for the company which ended with her announcing a split of the company. 

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

In March, GSK bought out Novartis International AG’s stake in a healthcare joint venture for US$ 13 billion. The deal came just days after GSK walked away from a US$ 20 billion auction for Pfizer’s consumer health unit, where it had emerged as the clear frontrunner. 

However, by December, Pfizer Inc and GSK  decided to combine their consumer-health units, thereby creating a global consumer-healthcare giant with combined 2017 global sales of about US$ 12.7 billion.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

GSK will hold 68 percent stake in the joint venture and Pfizer the remaining 32 percent. Within three years of closing the deal, GSK intends to de-merge the consumer division through a UK stock market listing, splitting the company into two separate businesses — one focused on consumer products and one on prescription medicines and vaccines.

Walmsley said: “Ultimately, our goal is to create two exceptional, UK-based global companies, with appropriate capital structures, that are each well positioned to deliver improving returns to shareholders and significant benefits to patients and consumers.”

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

By spinning off the JV, the two pharmaceutical behemoths can focus on prescription medicines, which tend to be more profitable, though carry a higher risk.

On the prescription medicines side, GlaxoSmithKline  struck a deal to acquire Tesaro, the maker of the ovarian cancer drug Zejula, for US$ 5.1 billion in cash. The acquisition will vault GSK into the commercial oncology market.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

Novartis’ Narasimhan refocuses on prescription drugs: GSK’s Walmsley wasn’t the only new CEO revamping the structure of the company. Novartis’ CEO Vas Narasimhan’s spent the year getting the company to refocus on prescription drugs by announcing its plans to spin off Novartis’ problematic buy — the Alcon eye care business — into a separately traded standalone company and buy back up to US$ 5 billion in stock. Alcon was purchased in 2011 for US$ 51.6 billion, under the regime of former Novartis boss Daniel Vasella.

The pharma giant said the planned spinoff would enable both Novartis and Alcon to focus fully on their respective growth strategies and create a global leader in eye-care devices.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

In addition, in a bid to secure its leadership position in gene therapy, Novartis struck a deal to acquire Illinois-based AveXis, a clinical-stage gene therapy company working to develop treatments of rare and life-threatening neurological genetic diseases for US$ 8.7 billion.

AveXis’ lead pipeline candidate is a neurology-targeted treatment based on virus-mediated gene therapy — AVXS-101. It has the potential to be the first one-time gene replacement therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a disease which results in early death or lifelong disability with considerable healthcare costs. 

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

The patient population for SMA is about 23,500 people in established markets and the US launch of the drug is expected in 2019.



A year of mega deals such as Takeda-Shire, Sanofi-Bioverativ, Celgene-Juno
 

Japanese drug maker Takeda Pharmaceutical’s first non-Japanese CEO, Christophe Weber, had envisioned the future of the company as a global pharmaceutical giant with its roots in Japan, along with becoming a leader in gastroenterology, neuroscience, oncology and rare diseases. 

In this endeavor, he announced the acquisition of Ireland-based Shire for a hefty price tag of US$ 62 billion (£46 billion). Together, they have almost made it to the league of the 10 largest drug companies.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

Major deals were also announced by Sanofi in the early part of the year as the French drugmaker announced it had closed a deal to acquire Biogen spinout Bioverativ, a maker of drugs for hemophilia, for almost US$ 11.6 billion. Sanofi didn’t stop at the Bioverativ buy. In January 2018, almost immediately after the Bioverativ buy, it agreed to buy Belgian biotech company Ablynx for US$ 4.8 billion (Euro 3.9 billion), beating Denmark’s Novo NordiskAblynx had earlier rejected a US$ 3.2 billion (Euro 2.6 billion) offer from Novo Nordisk.

Ablynx specializes in the research of novel drugs based on nanobodies (which are found in the immune systems of llamas and alpacas). Ablynx partners with several of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

The leading dealmaker in the United States in value terms turned out to be Celgene. Like Sanofi, Celgene was very active in January 2018 as the firm announced the acquisitions of Juno Therapeutics and Impact BioMedicines. Celgene acquired Juno for US$ 9 billion.

Juno is a pioneer in the development of CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T and TCR (T cell receptor) therapeutics with a broad, novel portfolio evaluating multiple targets and cancer indications. This acquisition will add to Celgene’s lymphoma program — JCAR017. Regulatory approval for JCAR017 in the US is expected in 2019. With this acquisition, Celgene hopes to deliver a new CAR-T with peak sales of US$ 3 billion a year.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

In JanuaryCelgene also agreed to acquire Impact Biomedicines for US$ 7 billion, a startup that had bought Sanofi’s cast off drug, fedratinib — a kinase inhibitor that has shown promise as a potential treatment for myelofibrosis. Myelofibrosis is a group of rare cancers of the bone marrow in which the marrow is replaced by scar tissue and is not able to make healthy blood cells. 

San Diego-based Impact Biomedicines had bought fedratinib — Sanofi’s cast off drug — in 2013. Fedratinib was a flop for Sanofi as patients began to develop a dangerous neurological condition tied to vitamin B deficiency called Wernicke’s encephalopathy. As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) put a clinical hold on it in 2013 and Sanofi ultimately shelved the effort. However, in late 2017, Impact Biomedicines began convincing regulators that patients can be protected from the lethal side effects of fedratinib.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)



Not all Big Pharma deals involved acquisitions
 

The year saw several hard decisions taken across the industry. German drug major Bayer revealed plans that include retrenching 12,000 employees the world over between now and the end of 2021. Importantly, it plans to restructure its drug R&D business and cut 900 research staffers, with another 350 jobs likely to be slashed at a plant in Wuppertal (Germany).

And German employees are expected to bear a “significant part” of the job losses, the company said.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

The 12,000 jobs represent just under a tenth of Bayer's current worldwide workforce.

Meanwhile, there was also news that investment firm Elliott (run by billionaire Paul Singer) might push Bayer to split up its crop and pharma businesses.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)



Our view
 

Even though the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index tumbled almost 14 percent in the last quarter of 2018, which saw reduced dealmaking and questions being raised about where investments will be made in the future, 2019 has started off with a bang.

Two companies reached a US$ 74 billion deal earlier this month as Bristol-Myers Squibb announced it would acquire Celgene.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

The deal is far costlier than Takeda-Shire. After factoring in debt, the value of the deal balloons to about US$ 95 billion. According to data compiled by Refinitiv, this is the largest healthcare deal on record.

In addition, Eli Lilly (which had a muted 2018) snapped up a tiny startup — Loxo Oncology — for about US$ 8 billion in cash.

These are strong indicators signaling an active 2019 for the biopharma sector. This year, there is a lot more talk about mega-mergers and optimism around cell therapy and related techniques. This year, therefore, is poised to an even bigger year for the drug industry.

View our Interactive 2018 Deals Dashboard (Free Excel Compilation Available)

 

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Image Credit : Pharma & Biotech Deals in 2018 by PharmaCompass is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“ The article is based on the information available in public and which the author believes to be true. The author is not disseminating any information, which the author believes or knows, is confidential or in conflict with the privacy of any person. The views expressed or information supplied through this article is mere opinion and observation of the author. The author does not intend to defame, insult or, cause loss or damage to anyone, in any manner, through this article.”

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