Healthcare Business

The Biotech Industry Prepares For A Wave Of Consolidation

Underscoring just how much big pharma will depend on biotech acquisitions for future revenue, an analysis published by Evaluate Pharma today suggests half of the top 100 drugs worldwide by 2014 – and all of the top six — will be biotechs.

Three in the top six – the anticancer drugs Avastin, Rituxan and Herceptin, — are all made by Roche, which recently moved to acquire even more biotech drugs with its plans to acquire Genentech.

It begs the question: Which biotech company could be the next to be taken over?

One that frequently makes the list is Amylin Pharmaceuticals (ALMN). It’s drug Byetta could be used to treat Type 2 diabetes as a once-a-week treatment, instead of daily. Some potential safety concerns had been raised with the drug, but earlier this month, it and partner Eli Lilly announced that a meta-analysis of the data showed no increased risk of cardiovascular events associated with its use. The relative risk between risk between Byteta and a group of competing drugs was found to be small, and the unadjusted rate at which patients experienced at least one cardiovascular event was slightly lower with Byetta. Given the very large market for diabetes and its existing drug company partnerships, there would appear to be meaningful takeout potential.

Another biotech on the list with a drug that reaches a large potential market and existing partners is Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX). It has a joint venture with Bayer for Nexavar, used to treat kidney and liver cancers. There was increased call volume in the options market for ONXX back in early May, despite some apparent friction between the partners over the rights to a next-generation Nexavar compound that Bayer reportedly was developing without Onyx’s knowledge. A legal battle could ensue. But if that happens and Onyx gains the upper hand in court, it could be the catalyst that forces Bayer to become more than just a partner, and buy its biotech partner.

One more biotech takeout candidate to watch is Vertex Pharma (VRTX), which makes a potential product called Telaprevir, which might help cut the time it takes to treat hepatitis C. Conventional treatment currently takes about 11 months. With a seemingly promising product in a large addressable market, Vertex options spiked last month on two separate instances, amid chatter that it could be a takeout target by either GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) or Johnson&Johnson (JNJ). There are more than 150 million people worlwide infected with hepatitis C,  and more than 3 million of them in the U.S.

Mike Tarsala