What Happens if Gilead Went Bigger Than Incyte and Made a Play for This Pharma Giant

What Happens if Gilead Went Bigger Than Incyte and Made a Play for This Pharma Giant April 10, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Investors want Gilead Sciences to buy something. And given the amount of coverage given to speculation over who Gilead might, can or should buy, it seems almost to be a hobby for a great number of people. The reasons are straightforward: the company’s dominant hepatitis C franchises are starting to falter, a victim of their own success—that’s what happens when your drug cures the diseases, you have fewer patients to draw on. The company’s HIV franchise continues to be very healthy, however.

The suggested targets are numerousKite Pharmaceuticals , Incyte is the most prominent, Vertex Pharmaceuticals , Puma Biotechnology , Portola Pharmaceutical , and Arrowhead Research Corporation . It’s generally argued, however, that a small acquisition isn’t going to be enough to solve Gilead’s problems.

Keith Speights, writing for The Motley Fool, came up with a potential buyout target that’s sure to raise some eyebrows—Celgene .

Just like an acquisition of Incyte, Celgene would help Gilead build an oncology portfolio. It has two blockbuster hematology cancer drugs, Revlimid and Pomalyst. It has Abraxane for breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer. And Celgene also has seven other oncology pipeline products.

John Milligan, Gilead’s chief executive officer, has publicly stated that he’s also interested in expanding into inflammatory drugs and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Speights writes, in terms of inflammation, “Celgene is a great fit there, also. Otezla is already making money hand over fist as a treatment for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. The drug is being evaluated for treating four other autoimmune disease indications as well. Celgene’s pipeline boasts several strong anti-inflammatory candidates, especially ozanimod and GED-0301.”

If it’s a case of “go big or go home,” Celgene is big. Its currently market cap is $97 billion, which is about 3.5 times larger than Incyte’s market cap. In fact, Celgene is bigger than Gilead.

Gilead couldn’t buy Celgene with cash. It has a lot of cash, about $32 billion, and that would be a down payment, but Gilead would probably have to borrow at least $100 billion to close such a big deal.

Speights writes, “I think that the combined companies could service a debt load of that massive size. Gilead made $13.5 billion in profit last year. Celgene earned around $2 billion. Although Gilead’s earnings are declining, Celgene’s earnings are growing. There would also no doubt be some significant synergies to be obtained from a merger, which would help in paying down the debt.”

Speights admits this is a long shot. There’s no evidence Celgene wants to be acquired. It would be pretty spectacular, but Gilead hasn’t really shown signs of being willing to go that big. He writes, “It is an intriguing thought, though. A Gilead-Celgene merger would create the most dynamic entity the biotech world has ever seen. I’d love to see how such a staggeringly audacious alliance might play out.”

Smart money’s probably on an Incyte acquisition. Incyte’s Jakafi has potential peak sales of $3 billion. If its epacadostat is approved it could draw $1.6 billion annually. Its autoimmune drug baricitinib, which is licensed to Eli Lilly , has the potential to create $1.8 billion in peak sales. And it’s a whole lot more affordable than Celgene. Incyte’s market cap is around $23 billion, and if Gilead was able to wrangle a $30 billion deal, it could afford to pay cash.

But Speights is correct—a Gilead-Celgene deal would be something to write about.

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