BioWorld: 2013 dealmaking hit $158B with a focus on early stage assets: Michael Fitzhugh, Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO ­Following 2013’s strong dealmaking streak, the first quarter of 2014 is carrying its momentum, evidenced by 587 announced deals and $49.7 billion in total disclosed deal value, according to data released at Allicense 2014, in San Francisco.

Licenses and joint ventures have dominated the mix to date, accounting for 30 percent of the deal count, but M&A has of course taken the cake in dollar terms, accounting for $36.7 billion so far, or about a third of 2013’s M&A total of $110 billion.

Diversified companies, or those with a broad therapeutic focus, dominated the first quarter landscape, led by Actavis plc’s pending acquisition of Forest Laboratories Inc. But smaller companies are edging into the mix too, with almost half of the top 25 dealmakers in 2013 small companies, by revenue, noted Chris Ehrlich, managing director, Locust Walk Partners.

“There’s an emergence of this very hungry class of buyers, such as Mallinckrodt,” he said, that is increasingly in the market creating competition for companies such as Astrazeneca plc and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

That trend is here to stay, said Gary Phillips, managing director, and chief strategy officer at Mallinckrodt plc. “In any ecosystem there’s always going to be an evolution in which the top companies have either merged or declined,” he said. “It’s part of the natural cycle.”

As with last year, overall deals continue to target early stage assets, leading creative dealmaking in which contingent-value agreements and option deals carry the day, said Laura Vitez, principal business analyst for Thomson Reuters Recap. Companies have struck 15 contingent value deals so far, according to Recap, all for private targets.

On the licensing front, deals for discovery-stage and preclinical assets continue to dominate, according to Vitez and her colleague, senior deals analyst Vinay Singh. While first quarter 2014 license and joint venture deals are down at 168 deals, vs. 198 deals in the first quarter of 2013, deal values have remained strong, led by Merck & Co. Inc.’s $2.3 billion cancer immunotherapy partnership agreement with Ablynx NV. (SeeBioWorld Today, Feb. 4, 2014.)

Seven of the top 10 licensing deals in the first quarter have focused on discovery-stage assets, Recap found. And, despite Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s $100 million up-front for options on 10 messenger RNA therapeutics with Moderna Therapeutics Inc., just one of the top 10 had an up-front that broke the $25 million mark: Merck’s $27 million initial payment to Ablynx.

Vigorous dealmaking is set to continue across the board in life sciences, Vitez concluded. Helped along by companies chasing the advantages of moving their headquarters to relatively low-tax nations and a growing list of companies looking to join the upper echelons of dealmaking, it’s likely to be an eventful year ahead.