Despite the massive changes in value that some small-cap biotech companies have seen before and during this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, the big winner from the confab is actually large pharmaceutical companies.

Many of the drugs that showed promising results are already partnered up. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) locked up Cougar Biotechnology before investors could see the data for its prostate cancer drug at ASCO. And others -- like Celldex Therapeutics' (NASDAQ:CLDX) promising brain cancer therapy, CDX-110 -- have already been licensed to Pfizer (NYSE:PFE).

But even the small drug developers with promising compounds that aren't partnered with pharmaceutical companies are good news for big pharma. When companies like Genentech or Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG) dominate the meeting, there's little upside for pharmaceutical companies, since the large biotechs don't really need a pharmaceutical company to get drugs through the clinical trial process and onto the market.

Many pharmaceutical companies' pipelines haven't grown as fast as their revenue -- multibillion-dollar blockbusters like Pfizer's Lipitor, Merck's (NYSE:MRK) Singulair, and sanofi-aventis (NYSE:SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE:BMY) Plavix will do that to you. Promising cancer drugs like OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals' OGX-011 and Poniard Pharmaceuticals' picoplatin are sitting there ready to help restock pipelines.

And they're cheap, too. At under $200 million market caps, adding them outright or through a licensing deal would be close to a rounding error compared to the pharma megamergers we've seen recently.

Should investors jump in before pharma does? It's not a bad idea to stay ahead of the curve, but be careful. Many of these companies aren't in the best shape financially, which puts them in a precarious negotiating situation. OncoGenex, for instance, had under $10 million in cash at the end of last quarter; it needs a big pharma partner as much as big pharma needs it.

Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Whether you like your companies big or small, dividend laden or with multibagger written all over them, we've got a newsletter for you.

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