The Biotechnology sector roared to life in 2017, posting a record 209 transactions. That’s 20% higher than the 174 deals announced in 2016. The previous record for the sector was set in 2009, with 193 transactions announced in the space.
Spending for those 209 deals in 2017 didn’t set new records, but did post an impressive $54.5 billion in disclosed prices. That’s 283% higher than the $18.6 billion recorded in all of 2016, but not close to the secctor’s annual spending record of $93.9 billion, set in 2008.
Every January, the Biotechnology Showcase is held in San Francisco, concurrent with the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference. And every January, this sector sees some of its largest deal announcements. This year was no exception, as 26 transactions were made public during the month. Compared with January 2017, deal volume was down 19% (32 transactions). Spending was also a bit lower. The $27.8 billion reported in January 2018 represents a 12% decrease from the year-ago total of $31.5 billion.
That doesn’t mean this sector is losing its appeal. Far from it, in fact. Some big players–Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ: CELG), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Sanofi (NYSE: SNY)–announced two deals apiece last month. Celgene and Sanofi were the biggest spenders. Celgene laid out $10.1 billion for its acquisitions, while Sanofi committed nearly $16.5 billion for its two targets. Pfizer disclosed just one price, at $12 million.
Sanofi’s biggest target was Bioverativ Inc. (NASDAQ: BIVV), which develops therapies to treat hemophilia and other blood disorders. The $11.6 billion price equals $105 per share in cash, representing a 64% premium to Bioverativ’s closing share price on January 19, the last trading day before this deal was announced on January 22. Bioverativ, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, was spun out of Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) last year, but didn’t remain independent very long.
Within the week, Sanofi announced its acquisition of Ablynx NV (NASDAQ: ABLX), a Belgian biotech focused on the discovery and development of Nanobodies, a novel class of proprietary next-generation biologicals meant to address multiple disease targets with single multi-specific molecules. The nearly $4.9 billion price was also cash, at €45.00 per share. Rival bidder Novo Nordisk (NYSE: NVO) declined to raise its offer above €28.00 per share.
Celgene targeted two biotechs focused on cancer treatments. Early in the month, pre-Showcase even, the company announced its $1.1 billion acquisition of Impact Biomedicines, a privately held biotech backed by Medicxi and Oberland Capital. Impact’s pipeline is centered around fedratinib, a highly selective oral small molecule JAK2 kinase inhibitor initially developed to treat myelofibrosis and polycythemia vera. The $1.1 billion is upfront cash, and does not include regulatory and sales-based milestone payments of up to $5.9 billion.
The big announcement came on January 22, when Celgene agreed to pay $9.0 billion for Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO), the Seattle-based biotech focused on developing cellular immunotherapies to treat various cancers. Celgene already owned a 9.7% stake in Juno.
There will likely be more go-private deals as the year rolls on, goaded at least in part by the fear of being left behind in the tightening race to get some blockbuster treatments to market. The path to FDA approval appears to be opening up, too.
In 2017, the FDA approved 46 new drugs, agents or therapeutic biologics; 16 of those (about 35%) are classified as personalized medicines. The year before, 2016, saw 13 of 45 new drug approvals as personalized medicines. According to the Personalized Medicine Coalition, this marks the first time that the number of personalized medicines approved in year rose above 30%.
The first gene therapy for use in the United States was approved in 2017 by the FDA, and now three gene therapies are heading to market. So fasten your seat belts, this ride could accelerate without warning.