Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pharmaceutical Mega-Deals Could Delay RNA Therapeutics Partnerships

Pharmaceutical mega-deals are en vogue again.  Though not official, rumor is that Pfizer intends to acquire AstraZeneca for $100B, and deal engine Valeant has gone hostile on Botox maker Allergan with a ~$45B bid.  As if that weren’t enough for what was supposed to be a quiet Easter weekend, double-digit billion figures are being moved across the table in an asset swap between Novartis and GSK.   

The motivations for all these deals are essentially the same: squeezing out short-term profits by slashing R&D.  Valeant is an interesting example as it never pretended to be in the R&D game in the first place.  Instead, it exists on the notion that R&D is inefficient and risky and financial engineering through M&A instead of drug development is the only way to Big Pharma bliss.  Considering its spectacular rise to a ~$50B market cap company and a relentless increase in its share price, it has the goods to show for it. 

Pfizer, on the other hand, like all Big Pharmas likes to tout its R&D prowess webcast after webcast, R&D day after R&D day, but in fact is the worst offender when it comes to squeezing profits from slashing R&D.  In just 5 years following its acquisition of Wyeth, the R&D budget of the combined companies has been cut in half.  AstraZeneca is partly a juicy target because it was forced to be more risk-taking in its R&D as it gained the reputation to be the Big Pharma with the least innovative and effective R&D. 

As a consequence of this, AstraZeneca has become one of the most active Big Pharma in RNA Therapeutics with deals in antisense (ISIS), microRNAs (Regulus), RNA modulation (PTC Therapeutics), and most famously the 2013 $240M upfront mRNA Therapeutics deal with Moderna

Unfortunately/fortunately, depending on whether you think Big Pharma involvement in RNA Therapeutics is a good thing or not, the other two deal protagonists from this weekend, Novartis and GSK are also amongst the Big 4 Pharmas in RNA Therapeutics (Sanofi/Genzyme being the 4th).

In addition to cost savings by cutting R&D outright, RNA Therapeutics deals could also be affected by Big Pharmas becoming pre-occupied with re-organizing.  This is based on experience as the narrative is that when Pfizer acquired Wyeth in 2009, Wyeth had by far the superior RNAi development effort, but that this fell victim to the acquisition.  Similarly, when Roche acquired Genentech the same year, RNAi Therapeutics quickly fell down the priority list.

What deals may be canceled or at least delayed as a result of these developments? 

mRNA delivery is the first one that comes to mind as I believed AstraZeneca to be under pressure to do something in this area after having spent probably $300M on mRNA Therapeutics by now.  

We have already heard about Novartis which had been another top pick for a delivery deal to go with its target picks from Alnylam.

Fortunately, RNA(i) Therapeutics is in a different position from what it was in 2009.  Cashed up and with robust, clinically validated technologies, a number of companies do not depend on dilutive Big Pharma deals any more- at least for now.  Let the deals therefore happen.  They will only accelerate the demise of the old pharmaceutical model to be replaced by innovative biotech companies.  


Anonymous said...

Marina Biotech can help Big Pharma reach many undruggable targets!

Anonymous said...

How so?

Anonymous said...

Dirk- please stick to the science, which I enjoy reading on your blog. Your grasp of the stock market leaves a lot to be desired. How does it feel having sold TKMR in the $13's... $12's....? Anyway please keep it up, like I said I really do enjoy reading your blog posts which discuss the science of rnai etc

Dirk Haussecker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dirk Haussecker said...

Hey, I've sold TKMR in the $16-17 range, but admit that this could well go much higher without me on board. I'm just uneasy with the stock market right now and my impression of Putin is that he wants to make the history books by taking not just Crimea, but also Eastern Ukraine. Plus the mega-deals could cost the field a deal or two.

BTW, 'The Wait' does not mean that there won't be attractive RNAi trading/investment opportunities in the next 3 years. Markets are rarely efficient.

Anonymous said...

Read Marina's press releases from Jul. 8, 2011 and Mar. 11, 2014 to see how they will use their technology to address undruggable targets and rare diseases.

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