The pharmaceutical industry underwent a major consolidation last year, driven by the loss of former top-selling drugs to the patent cliff, huge cash positions built up over the preceding decade, and an innovation boom that has made a number of smaller pharmas extremely valuable in the eyes of their larger peers.
These conditions still exist in 2015, so the trend should continue, and perhaps even accelerate as another $65 billion worth of drugs is set to lose patent protection within the next four years.
While it's difficult to predict which companies will be bought out, I believe that Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG) is an extremely attractive buyout candidate. Here's why.
Celgene offers monster top-line growth and a premier clinical pipeline
Given that most big pharmas are hurting for top-line growth these days, Celgene's rapidly climbing revenue stream, stemming from its top-flight cancer drugs Revlimid, Abraxane, and Pomalyst, along with newly launched psoriasis drug Otezla, might be too much to pass up.
In the third quarter of 2014, for example, Celgene reported that its adjusted net income rose by a staggering 20% from the same period of the prior year. That type of growth is hard to find anywhere in the healthcare sector, particularly among Big Pharma.
As the Otezla launch unfolds in the U.S. and Revlimid closes in on additional approvals in high-growth markets -- such as becoming a first-line multiple myeloma treatment -- there is good reason to believe this double-digit growth rate won't evaporate anytime soon.
Looking farther down the line, Celgene also offers a potential buyer a rich clinical pipeline, infused with partnerships focused on cutting-edge drug development. For example, Celgene partnered with rising clinical-stage gene therapy company bluebird bio (NASDAQ:BLUE) recently in an effort to use chimeric antigen receptors to turn T-cells into cancer killers.
Who might be interested in buying Celgene?
With Celgene's overwhelming focus on oncology, I think the obvious candidates for a buyout are Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). Both of these companies in recent years have dramatically reorganized their internal business segments to focus more heavily on developing cancer drugs. Moreover, Bristol and Pfizer both desperately need new blockbuster drugs to replace their aging star products. A Celgene acquisition would go a long way toward achieving these goals.
That said, I think Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) could be a dark-horse candidate. Unlike Bristol and Pfizer, though, Gilead simply doesn't have the cash to execute such a massive buyout, meaning a deal would have to be more of a merger than an acquisition.
Even so, there are some compelling points to consider for a possible Celgene-Gilead meeting of like minds. First, Gilead is deeply interested in gaining a foothold in the oncology market, as shown by the development of its first cancer drug Zydelig. Celgene, meanwhile, would instantly diversify its business in a huge way, an endeavor management has clearly been working on with the development of Otezla.
These companies also have two of the best pipelines in the business, and have been among the fastest-growing biotechs over the last couple years. The combined entity would thus possess a highly diverse product portfolio and clinical pipeline that would be nearly unmatched in the industry.
Such a megamerger might sound far-fetched, but these types of deals are fairly common in biopharma. As a reminder, Pfizer joined forces with Warner-Lambert in 2000 for similar reasons, and the modern version of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) is itself a product of megamerger. As such, a Celgene-Gilead hookup certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Whether the pursuer turns out be Gilead or one of the Big Pharmas, though, my bet is that Celgene's days are numbered. The history of the industry is one of consolidation, and high-growth companies like Celgene tend be the first to get gobbled up.