Sirna Decides to Take the Cash and Run

Perhaps not willing to look a gift horse in the mouth, shareholders of drug developer Sirna Therapeutics (Nasdaq: RNAI  ) voted to approve Merck's (NYSE: MRK  ) buyout offer today.

With the formal approval of the acquisition by Sirna's shareholders now completed, Merck's more than $1.1 billion buyout is now almost officially finished and should close sometime next quarter. What Merck is getting with its more than 100% buyout premium for Sirna is a biotech company with only one drug entering phase 2 trials and another drug just finishing preclinical work, so obviously Merck is basing this deal more on Sirna's exciting technology than its current drug pipeline.

Even though Sirna's drugs in development are in early stages, now that its compounds have come under the auspices of Merck's research and development team and all its vast resources, they should move through clinical trials at a faster rate and with fewer costs.

Its lead product, SIRNA-027, is already partnered with Allergan (NYSE: AGN  ) , and if the efficacy it showed in phase 1 trials continues in later trials, then Merck will have at least one viable product from this deal (albeit one that will be facing fierce competition, on which it will have to split profits).

With some of Merck's top drugs losing patent protection in the coming years, it's going to need new products to maintain its forecast double-digit earnings growth come 2010. Since Sirna's products are so far away from any sort of approval, investors in shares of Merck really have to trust management to have done its due diligence on Sirna and to have faith in its technology. With Merck's history of success, dating back to the beginning of the modern-day pharmaceutical industry, I'm not betting against it -- even if $1.1 billion for such unproven technology seems like a bit of a rich valuation for Sirna at this moment.

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Fool contributorBrian Lawlerdoes not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Merck is a former Income Investor pick. The Fool has adisclosure policy.


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