Everyone wants to know who the mystery bidder is that's willing to go out on a limb to buy ImClone Systems (Nasdaq: IMCL ) at $70 per share. Especially when the company's longtime partner, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY ) , isn't willing to go any higher than $62. We should find out by midnight, but I'm going to go out on a limb now and guess that it's Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) hiding behind that mask.
My reasoning is threefold:
- In it's press release announcing the midnight deadline, ImClone called the mystery bidder a "large Pharma company." Perhaps ImClone just needs a copyeditor, but that's a rather strange place to have a capital letter. Is Carl Icahn hinting that the bidder's name starts with P? Know any other large pharmaceutical companies that start with P? (Hey, I know it's weak, but there you are.)
- In earlier comments on the mystery bidder's ability to pay $6.1 billion for ImClone, Icahn said that it would not need to finance the deal. Pfizer currently has $26 billion in cash and short-term investments on its books.
- Yesterday Pfizer said it's shifting focus. It'll drop new research on drugs to treat obesity and heart disease and instead focus on treatments for cancer -- Erbitux, anyone? -- and Alzheimer's disease. The company also said that it's "vigorously driving" its fairly new biotechnology focus and now has 16 biologic drugs in development. ImClone would certainly fit right in to the newly focused Pfizer.
The big question is whether the purchase -- and the newfound focus, for that matter -- are going to help Pfizer when Lipitor starts to face generic competition in a couple years.
The move into biologics I can understand. Right now, protein-based drugs have a de facto infinite marketing exclusivity in the U.S. because there's no pathway to approve generic versions of the drugs here. Unless things change -- and given the current speed at the Food and Drug Administration, I wouldn't count on it -- the research and development cost for biologics can be spread out over a much longer product life than small molecule drugs.
On the other hand, Pfizer's move away from certain therapeutic areas only makes sense if the company is going to plough those research and development dollars back into other more lucrative areas. It's not like the company is running low on cash.
Cost savings measures by pharmaceutical companies are a necessary evil, but moves by Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK ) to cut researchers don't seem to make nearly as much sense as the salesforce cuts that Schering-Plough (NYSE: SGP ) and Merck (NYSE: MRK ) have made recently. Pharma needs to keep up the R&D spending in order to benefit in the long term.
If Pfizer doesn't buy ImClone, it's going to have to spend its cash somewhere else to restock its pipeline.
So, who's up for an all-night party to see if Pfizer is ImClone's mystery bidder?