Mega-mergers are back in vogue in pharma, and one of the biggest agreed last year was AbbVie’s $63bn buyout of Allergan. The deal was announced in June 2019 and took months to go through the antitrust regulatory process, but according to AbbVie – which agreed a massive $30bn bond issue to help finance the deal – it is due to close early this year.
Big deals always bring integration challenges and internal disruption – in fact some research suggests only 40-60% of mega-mergers actually succeed in meeting the strategic objectives – so the combined company will have to hit the ground running in 2020.
There’s also some urgency for the transaction to go quickly and smoothly as AbbVie prepares for the loss of patent protection for $20bn immunology drug Humira (adalimumab) in the US in 2023, and is starting to feel the effects of biosimilar competition to the brand in Europe. At the moment Humira accounts for nearly two-thirds of AbbVie’s total sales.
AbbVie chief executive Rick Gonzalez has been forced to defend the merits of the merger, which critics suggest is saddling the company with debt and adding little of note to the pipeline. He argues, however, that layering in products like Allergan’s blockbuster wrinkle and migraine treatment Botox will improve near-term cashflow and help fund the roll-out of a new wave of products intended to reduce its reliance on Humira, starting in 2020.
“Combined, we will generate significant earnings and cash flow to enhance our innovative R&D platform, support a strong and growing dividend and rapidly pay down debt,” said Gonzalez late last year.
Botox is facing tougher competition in the market from new migraine drugs as well as rivals in its medical aesthetics indications. The latter is still low level, however, and biosimilars to Botox are thought to be some years off the market.
AbbVie needs its new products to deliver quickly, and that includes recently approved JAK inhibitor Rinvoq (upadacitinib) for arthritis and psoriasis therapy Skyrizi (risankizumab) – both tipped as possible future blockbusters despite launching into competitive markets. Their performance in 2020, along with other new launches like Orilissa (elagolix) for endometriosis pain will be a signpost as to whether they can fulfil that potential.
AstraZeneca is included in our list on the back of its resurgent revenues, which according to some analysts will allow it
to outperform all its big pharma peers in 2020.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the company under CEO Pascal Soriot from a few short years ago, when its future as an independent company was jeopardised by a takeover bid from Pfizer.
AZ’s new growth phase comes after a six-year sales slump thanks to patent expiries, and has arrived on the back of a clutch of newer drugs that are either already $1bn-plus blockbusters, or heading in that direction. All told, new launches could add $13bn in revenues over the next five years, according to analysts at Liberum.
Cancer therapies Tagrisso (osimertinib) – now AZ’s top-selling drug – Lynparza (olaparib) and Imfinzi (durvalumab) are already gathering momentum, as they rack up additional indications that extend their use and there is more to come next year. That includes potential new approvals for PARP inhibitor Lynparza in prostate and pancreatic cancer to extend its existing use in ovarian and breast cancer.
Tagrisso’s growth as it moves earlier in the treatment pathway for EGFR-positive non-small lung cancer (NSCLC) and launches in new markets like China, plus possible label extensions for checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi such as the POSEIDON trial in first-line NSCLC, are key newsflow events this year.
AZ’s recovery has depended greatly on its cancer franchise, but it has some other big developments coming up in other therapeutic areas as well. Diabetes therapy Farxiga (dapagliflozin) has the potential to go where no other drug in the SGLT2 inhibitor class has gone before as it secures approval for heart failure in both diabetic and non-diabetic patients this year. There are also potential approvals for anifrolumab in lupus and PT010 in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The company’s biggest play last year was licensing Daiichi Sankyo’s cancer candidate trastuzumab deruxtecan for an eyewatering
$6.9bn. That’s a story in itself however – read on for more on that.
3. Bristol-Myers Squibb
Like AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb is facing the challenge of integration after its own mega-merger with Celgene, which concluded in November 2019 after nearly a year of wrangling with the antitrust authorities.