Week's news analysis

M&A plummeted
in second quarter of 2020

By The Editor - 30 July 2020

Between April and end of June, acquisitions happened in very reduced numbers and no large deals increased the combined M&A value. Even if pharma pipelines are permanently in need of restocking, target prices must not exceed what is reasonable, otherwise the deal doesn't happen. According to Evaluate Vantage analysts, "the biggest deals of the most recent quarter are unlikely to linger in the memory. If the 22 takeovers is only slightly below the quarterly average of 27 since the start of 2016, the main difference is the reduction in money being spent, an effect that might continue for some time yet".

The biggest second-quarter takeout was Portola, which Alexion bought for $1.4 billion, whereas the first quarter's biggest takeover was Gilead's $4.9 billion buyout of Forty Seven.

In April, Novartis acquired Amblyotech and its technology for children and adult patients with "lazy eye" (called amblyopia). This disease affects roughly 3 % of the global population with poor vision condition.

In May 2020, Alexion inked the $1.4 billion agreement to acquire Portola and its bleeding drug Andexxa, which has delivered disappointing sales since its launch in 2018. Alexion, which has been fighting to maintain its leadership in treating certain rare blood disorders, expects Portola's addition to its recent string of acquisitions would further boost its treatment pipepline. Alexion is focused on rare blood disorders with two drugs (Soliris and Ultomiris) and works closely with hospitals. Portola's pipeline also includes additional programs that it has for indications beyond coagulation disorders. These include cerdulatinib, a SYK/JAK inhibitor in Phase II development for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and peripheral T-cell lymphoma, as well as for follicular lymphoma.

In June, Gilead continued with its small to medium-sized biotech deals. The company has put down $275 million for a 49.9 % share in immuno-oncology biotech Pionyr Immunotherapeutics with the option to buy it out completely. Pionyr's tech, known as myeloid tuning, is designed to rebalance the tumor microenvironment to favor immune-activating myeloid cells over immune-suppressing myeloid cells.

Still in June, diabetes giant Novo Nordisk acquired cardio-renal specialist Corvidia Therapeutics for $2.1 billion, in a two-phase deal. It involved an upfront payment of $750 million but Corvidia could be eligible to receive around $2.1bn upon the completion of regulatory and sales milestones related to its cardio-renal pipeline and its anti-IL-6 antibody, ziltivekimab. This human monoclonal antibody targeting interleukin-6 (IL-6) is being studied in Phase IIb in chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients who have increased cardiovascular (CV) risk and evidence of systemic inflammation.

Novo Nordisk is planning to further develop the drug to see if it reduces the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) in this indication. This is also a new step towards expanding beyond its heartlands of diabetes and obesity. The Danish drugmaker is facing a hit to sales of its biggest-selling insulin NovoLog, which brought in around $2.7 billion in sales last year, from generic competition.

Will the AstraZeneca $6 billion deal with Daiichi Sankyo give the pace of the third quarter? End of July, the UK company agreed to pay $1 billion upfront to develop an experimental directed antibody-drug conjugate (ADC), DS-1062, for the treatment of multiple tumour types. The target, TROP2, is a transmembrane protein with an extracellular domain that is overexpressed by tumors of the lung, breast, pancreas and other organs and is associated with poor outcomes.

AstraZeneca will make further payments of up to $1 billion for the successful achievement of regulatory approvals and as much as $4 billion in sales-related milestones over the next two years. DS-1062 is designed to deliver chemotherapy selectively to cancer cells and to reduce systemic exposure. The drug is currently in Phase I development for the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer and triple-negative breast cancer.

In March 2019, AstraZeneca had already sign a first agreement with Daiichi, stillin ADC. It paid $1.35 billion upfront as part of a deal potentially worth up to $6.9 billion to jointly develop and commercialise Daiichi Sankyo's ADC Enhertu (trastuzumab deruxtecan). The drug gained FDA approval in December for adults with unresectable or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer, who had received at least two prior anti-HER2-based regimens in the metastatic setting.

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