2021’s Top Biopharma Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions are part of the lifeblood of the pharmaceutical industry, as companies flex their pocketbooks to acquire pipelines and talent to bolster and complement their own programs. While there were significant moves during the past 12 months, 2021 has largely been quieter than previous years.

As the year comes to a close, BioSpace takes a look back at some of its biggest mergers and acquisitions.

CSL Nabs Vifor in $11.7 Billion Deal

CSL closed out the year with one of the most expensive acquisitions. In December, the Australia-based company acquired Vifor Pharma for $11.7 billion. Although the deal has yet to be finalized, when it is completed, CSL will gain Vifor’s pipeline of drugs aimed at treating iron deficiency, kidney and cardio-renal diseases. This includes vamifeport (VIT-2763), an oral ferroportin inhibitor being studied in diseases with ineffective production of red blood cells and iron overload conditions, such as beta-thalassemia or Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). Last year, Vifor secured U.S. rights to Korsuva (difelikefalin) Injection for the treatment of chronic kidney disease-associated pruritus (CKD-aP) following a partnership with Cara Therapeutics.

Additionally, as BioSpace previously reported, CSL will also gain Vifor’s production facilities in Switzerland and Portugal.

Acquisitive Merck

The second-largest pharma deal of the year was Merck’s $11.5 billion deal to acquire Acceleron Pharma and its Phase III pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) drug sotatercept. In 2019, sotatercept received Orphan Drug Designation for PAH from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The deal was met with some resistance by shareholders who believed the acquisition price was undervalued, but by November, the deal was completed. Not only had shareholders opposed the acquisition, a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that, after Merck made its intentions known, Acceleron reached out to other companies regarding a potential deal. Primarily, Acceleron reached out to Bristol Myers Squibb, which, at the time, owned about 11% of Acceleron. BMS and Acceleron jointly developed the blockbuster drug Reblozyl, which was approved in 2019.

In addition to snapping up Acceleron, Merck began 2021 with the February acquisition of autoimmune-focused Pandion Therapeutics in a $1.85 billion deal. Merck said the acquisition added a pipeline of drug candidates that target a broad range of autoimmune diseases. That includes PT101, an engineered IL-2 mutein fused to a protein backbone designed to selectively activate and expand regulatory T cells (Tregs) for the potential treatment of ulcerative colitis and other autoimmune diseases.

Jazz Jumps All Over GW Pharmaceuticals

In February, Jazz Pharma snapped up GW Pharmaceuticals in a deal valued at $7.2 billion. The merger of the companies formed a global neuroscience powerhouse that brought GW’s lead epilepsy drug, Epidiolex, into Jazz’s pipeline. Epidiolex, which is derived from its cannabinoid product platform, was the first plant-derived cannabinoid medicine ever approved by the FDA. In addition to Epidiolex, GW’s pipeline includes the Phase III candidate nabiximols, which is being assessed for the treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury. The company also has earlier-stage cannabinoid product candidates for autism and schizophrenia.

Jazz has a portfolio of oncology and neurology assets, including the recently-approved Xywav, the company’s lower-sodium treatment option for cataplexy and excessive daytime sleepiness in people living with narcolepsy. When it was approved in July, Xywav was the first new treatment option indicated for both conditions in more than 15 years.

Sanofi Stacks the Deck with Translate Bio and Kymab

In August, Sanofi cemented its position in the messenger RNA (mRNA) field with the $3.2 billion acquisition of Translate Bio. The two companies had been collaborating on mRNA vaccines and therapeutics since 2018. The acquisition of Translate Bio came about a month after Sanofi announced the establishment of its mRNA Center of Excellence. It also came four months after the company acquired tiny Tidal Therapeutics, a developer of nanoparticles that are able to deliver mRNA capable of reprogramming immune cells.

Sanofi started the year with a $1.4 billion acquisition of Kymab. The pharma giant snapped up the company to bolster its immunology pipeline. The deal added U.K.-based Kymab’s lead asset KY1005 to Sanofi’s pipeline. KY1005 is a human monoclonal antibody targeting key immune system regulator OX40L. It is thought that KY1005 has the potential to treat a wide variety of immune-mediated diseases and inflammatory disorders.

Horizon Keeps its Eye on the Prize with Viela Bio

In February, Ireland-based Horizon Therapeutics acquired Maryland-based Viela Bio for $3.5 billion. The deal expanded Horizon’s offerings in the rare disease space. In its announcement, Horizon pointed out that Viela’s Uplizna, which was approved in June 2020 for adults with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) who are anti-AQP4 antibody positive, will be complementary to its own Tepezza, which was approved in January 2020 for the treatment of Thyroid Eye Diseases. NMOSD is a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the optic nerve, spinal cord and brain stem. When the deal was struck, Viela’s pipeline included four therapeutic candidates currently in nine development programs. Uplinza is also being assessed in a late-stage study in myasthenia gravis, a chronic, rare autoimmune neuromuscular disease.

Amgen Bolsters Oncology Pipeline with Teneobio and Five Prime Therapeutics

California-based Amgen made two significant acquisitions this year. In March, the company acquired Five Prime Therapeutics and its Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody bemarituzumab in a $1.9 billion deal. At the time the announcement was made, Amgen indicated it was eying a potential expansion of bemarituzumab, which was being assessed in gastric cancer, into multiple oncology indications. Bemarituzumab targets FGFR2b, which can be overexpressed in about 30% of patients with non-HER2 positive solid tumors.

For Amgen, the acquisition of Five Prime supported an international expansion strategy. When the deal was announced, Amgen said it was looking at pushing bemarituzumab into the Asian market due to the high prevalence of gastric cancer in that region.

In addition to Five Prime, Amgen also acquired Teneobio. In that $2.5 billion deal, Amgen gained Teneobio’s class of biologics known as Human Heavy-Chain Antibodies. The addition of that technology was expected to allow for a “streamlined, sequence-based discovery approach for target binders,” Amgen said at the time. One of the key assets gained in the deal was Teneobio’s bispecific T cell-engager TNB-585, which is being developed as a potential treatment for metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer.

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