After megadeals by Pfizer and Merck in 2009, we circled back around in 2010 to the usual mode of large pharma picking up small biotechs. Except for sanofi-aventis' eternal pursuit of Genzyme (Nasdaq: GENZ), there haven't been any major M&A deals this year.

What will 2011 hold? Most likely, more small deals, and perhaps Sanofi will finally offer a reasonable price for Genzyme. Let's take a look at some of the companies that might be walking down the aisle next year.

The usual suspects
The most obvious M&A targets are drugmakers that already have big pharma partners. Since the large drugmaker knows what it's getting in the acquisition, it's a lot easier to price the acquisition correctly. Earlier this year, for instance, Johnson & Johnson announced its intention to buy its partner Crucell.

There are still quite a few drugmakers still up for grabs.




Onyx Pharmaceuticals Bayer Nexavar
Momenta Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: MNTA) Novartis M-Enoxaparin and M356
Human Genome Sciences (Nasdaq: HGSI) GlaxoSmithKline Benlysta
Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VRTX) Johnson & Johnson Telaprevir

Source: Company press releases.

Onyx has been rumored to be a takeout target of Bayer for years. I'm a little surprised it didn't happen, but with Onyx doing some acquiring of its own, I'd guess a takeout is less likely.

Momenta got its first drug, a generic version of Sanofi's Lovenox, approved this year. Whether Novartis acquires it is likely based on the same factor that's keeping investors from grabbing shares hand over fist: It's really hard to know if there will be another entrant that will reduce sales.

The last two, Human Genome and Vertex, should both get their drugs approved by the FDA next year. Look for Glaxo and J&J to wait for an inevitable post-launch dip before they jump in. Both pharmas are Buffett-like cheapskates.

Some or all
Other companies that don't have a partner could end up with either a marketing deal, or maybe a potential partner will like what it sees so much that it'll buy the whole dang thing.

MannKind (Nasdaq: MNKD) is waiting for FDA approval of its inhaled insulin, Afrezza. The company had been in talks with a partner back in 2009, but a deal was never formalized. Assuming the drug is approved, waiting will look like a good move, since the terms of the deal will be more favorable.

VIVUS (Nasdaq: VVUS) is taking the same strategy. While fellow obesity-drug makers have already partnered up, VIVUS hasn't struck a deal yet. After a rejection this year, it's hoping to resubmit for approval of Qnexa next year. Depending on how much confidence management and a potential partner have in the resubmission, we could see a partnership either before or after the FDA hands down its second verdict.

Buyer beware
There are no guarantees in investing, and that's never more obvious than when it comes to acquisitions. Witness Savient Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: SVNT), which flat out said, "We're for sale, come and make an offer." But no one did. And shares sank.

Don't fall in love with a drugmaker simply because it could be bought out; it's a recipe for disaster. Instead think of it as the cherry on top of the sundae. No one buys a sundae because they're craving a cherry, but it sure is a nice treat.

Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Momenta Pharmaceuticals and Vertex Pharmaceuticals are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections. GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis are Motley Fool Global Gains recommendations. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on GlaxoSmithKline. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Johnson & Johnson, which is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool and Motley Fool Alpha own shares of Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.