2 Health Care Partnerships Go Head-To-Head

The health care space is full of collaborative arrangements, with many pharmaceutical companies in particular forming partnerships with peers to share the development costs (and risk) involved in developing new drugs and treatments. However, partnerships are not a silver bullet for the challenges that arise when researching new drugs. Let's look briefly at a pair of examples.

A successful partnership
One such partnership that has enjoyed a relatively high degree of success recently is that between GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) and Ligand (NASDAQ: LGND), with the two companies collaborating on a drug for which they are seeking additional marketing approval.

Indeed, GlaxoSmithKline's share price has gained 6.5% in February alone and has outpaced the S&P 500 by around 4.5%. A factor behind this has been the news that GlaxoSmithKline's partner, Ligand has received "breakthrough" designation by U.S. regulators for the use of its drug, Promacta, in patients with a rare form of anemia.

The news is encouraging for a drug that Ligand and GlaxoSmithKline already market for other treatments, including chronic hepatitis C and a very rare condition called chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura, where the body attacks its own platelets. The "breakthrough" status is with regard to another treatment (as mentioned) for a rare form of anemia called severe aplastic anemia, where the bone marrow fails to make enough new blood cells.

The big advantage to receiving 'breakthrough' status is, of course, the extra meetings and earlier communications with the FDA that Ligand and GlaxoSmithKline will now experience. As with GlaxoSmithKline's share price, Ligand has posted gains in February, being up more than 20% since the start of the month as investors look ahead to the outcome of the potential new use for Promacta.

A difficult partnership
Clearly, the partnership between Ligand and GlaxoSmithKline is proving to be beneficial to both companies at the present time. However, the partnership between GlaxoSmithKline's peer Roche (OTCMKTS: RHHBY) and PDL BioPharma (NASDAQ: PDLI) has not been such a smooth ride.

Indeed, just last week the two companies agreed to settle the dispute over royalty rates on a group of drugs that PDL helped to develop. PDL alleged that Roche had underpaid royalties on four cancer drugs: Herceptin, Avastin, Perjeta, and Kadcyla, as well as an eye drug called Lucentis and an asthma treatment called Xolair, a claim that Roche denied.

The two companies have been in disagreement regarding royalties for more than three years but have now agreed that PDL will receive a single royalty rate (as opposed to a declining rate as total sales of the drugs increase, which has been the case in the past) on sales of the drugs until the end of 2015, with the exception of U.S. sales of Lucentis (although PDL will receive royalties on sales of Lucentis outside the U.S. until the end of this year). Furthermore, the dispute over patent protection has also been resolved, with Roche agreeing not to challenge patent protection on the drugs.

Looking ahead
Indeed, partnerships can clearly work well (as in the case of GlaxoSmithKline and Ligand), where two or more companies work together for a common goal. However, with the sheer volume of partnerships in the health care space, there are bound to be instances where events turn sour, as in the case of Roche and PDL.

The positive thing for shareholders in Roche and PDL is that the resolution lifts a cloud from both companies and, although shares did not react particularly positively immediately following the update, the loss of uncertainty is a good thing, meaning 2014 could prove to be a brighter year for both companies.

Meanwhile, for GlaxoSmithKline and Ligand, 2014 looks set to be a very exciting year, with their partnership seemingly highly beneficial for investors in both stocks.

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