With the big multinationals like Merck, Roche, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson joining some of the most aggressive biotechs (think Shire) in roaming the planet in search of the right biotech targets to acquire, you can expect to see a steady stream of fresh speculation among analysts over which companies figure as the most likely buyout–and the next place to score some quick cash by investors.
That routine chatter in the markets reached a fever pitch in the last few days, with the talk at JP Morgan centered on the premiums that are willingly being paid for new technologies. So this is a good time to start the game afresh for 2015.
Bloomberg did one of its regular quick surveys of the market to come up with one list of likely targets. Among some of the newer opportunities:
Sage Therapeutics: Sage has successfully resolved a rare seizure disorder among the majority of patients in its small but closely watched Phase I/II study, adding more promising outcomes to the early evidence that helped inspire one of last year’s most successful biotech IPOs. Sage is one of the leaders in using adaptive studies to accelerate the path of drug development, with plans to move into late stage work this year. And rare disease drugs have become a hot commodity, commanding some sky-high prices for small patient populations.
Juno Therapeutics: A new Fierce 15 company, Juno has thrived in the spotlight that is being cast over all things CAR-T related, turning T cells into genetically engineered cancer cell killers. Not everyone in the market is enthusiastic about the complexity of a cell therapy that has to be custom-made for each patient, but researchers have been reporting some impressive early data, driving Juno’s valuation past the $5 billion mark. And it’s all happened in a little more than a year from launch.
And then there were some old favorites on the Bloomberg list. They include:
BioMarin Pharmaceuticals: Another rare disease drug player, BioMarin likes to do its own acquisitions from time to time. That has helped make the company into a perennial player on the takeover target list over the years. And Bloomberg already cited it as a possible play for Shire, which still has plenty of cash in reserves after the NPS deal to follow up on CEO Flemming Ornskov’s plan to beef up its portfolio of rare disease drugs. (That list of targets also included Ultragenyx, another Fierce 15 company listed in 2013.)
Achillion: FierceBiotech noted back in December that Achillion would likely become a much-discussed takeover target (yet again) after its shares soared on the news in late December that its NS5A drug combined with Gilead’s Sovaldi scored a quick cure among a small group of hepatitis C patients after only 6 weeks of treatment. Meanwhile, its nucleotide inhibitor ACH-3422 was declared a success in a tiny proof-of-concept Phase I study, raising the possibility that Achillion has its own in-house combo that can compete with the heavyweights on the market.
“The IPO mill keeps on turning out new companies, and then sure enough somewhere down the line you get some other company looking” to buy them, Bloomberg analyst Asthika Goonewardene told his colleagues.
By John Carroll