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Burrill wraps up life sciences industry for Q1 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Burrill & Company, a diversified global financial services firm focused on the life sciences industry, has identified more than $2.6 billion in expected funding through nine translational research and early-stage initiatives announced since the end of February.

The largest of these efforts, a $760 million partnership between Russia’s Rusnano and the U.S. venture capital firm Domain Associates, will invest in emerging life sciences technology companies, foster the transfer of technology into Russia and establish manufacturing facilities in Russia for production of advanced therapeutic products. As part of the effort, Rusnano and Domain expect to co-invest in about 20 U.S.-based healthcare technology companies.

Other initiatives include an effort by the Welsh government to create a biotech hub through an $80 million commitment to what is targeted to be a $375 million fund; a $100 million R&D fund backed by Merck Canada, Lumira Capital and other venture capital firms to attract pharmaceutical companies to Quebec; and a Wellcome Trust project to invest $317 million in emerging healthcare and life sciences businesses and technologies in Europe in early-stage development with significant potential to grow.

Among the most unusual efforts is a $250 million initiative from Cleveland’s University Hospital, which is establishing a non-profit entity to fund and advise physician-scientists on translational research and a related for-profit accelerator that will develop selected compounds to proof of concept.

“These efforts reflect broad attempts to forge creative new models for funding translational research and spur development of important new therapies,” said G. Steven Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Company. “It also demonstrates that governments across the globe, despite facing fiscal pressure, see the importance of investing in the life sciences to build innovation-based economies that can provide high quality jobs.”

Though 2012 got off to a solid start in life sciences financing, activity slowed in March. M&A, partnering and initial public offering activity have been lackluster. With the exception of debt, financings across all types of public and private deals fell from the previous month. For the first quarter, total global financings for the life sciences fell to $12.5 billion from $29.2 billion during the same period a year ago. A large portion of the drop reflected a $15.9 billion drop in global debt offerings.

Life sciences stocks posted solid gains in the first quarter with the Burrill Select Index rising 20.7%. That bested the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 8.1% gain and the Nasdaq Composite Index’s 18.7% rise. Threshold Pharmaceuticals outperformed all other life sciences stocks during the quarter as it rose more than 622.9% to close the quarter at $8.82 on a co-development and commercialization agreement with Merck for its experimental cancer drug TH-302 and the strength of mid-stage data. Cardiome Pharma posted the biggest loss for the quarter, plunging 73.2% to 71 cents after it reported Merck would discontinue a deal to develop the company’s oral formulation of Vernakalant, a treatment for maintenance and prevention of atrial fibrillation recurrence.       

Venture capital financings in both the U.S. and globally rose in the first quarter of 2012 as compared to the first quarter of 2011. In the U.S., venture funding rose 22.1% to $2 billion, thanks in large part to a 63.4% increase in capital raised by medical device companies. Globally, several large private equity investments in private companies drove the venture number up 35.4%.

On the IPO front, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals was the only company to go public in the U.S. in March. The cancer therapeutics developer raised $100 million, far less than the $150 million it had hoped to raise. The company sold 14.3 million shares at $7 each, below its initial $8 to $10 per share target. The JOBS Act—legislation designed to lower barriers to going public for emerging growth companies and exempt them from the need to comply with burdensome requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for up to five years—won rare bipartisan support and is awaiting President Obama’s signature. Passage of the law is expected to improve the ability of biotech companies to access capital through the public markets.

M&A activity slowed in March with the two top deals during the month involving medical device companies. Asahi Kasei is acquiring Zoll Medical, a maker of resuscitation and critical care devices, for $2.2 billion in cash. Boston Scientific said it would buy privately held Cameron Health, developer of a leadless defibrillator, for $150 million in cash and milestone payments that could increase the total deal value to nearly $1.4 billion.

The most interesting M&A activity continues to be the deals yet to be consummated. Roche increased its hostile bid for Illumina by $1 billion to $6.7 billion. Amylin Pharmaceuticals  reportedly spurned a $3.5 billion offer from Bristol-Myers Squibb. And Mylan and Watson Pharmaceuticals are both said to be bidding for generic drugmaker Actavis Group in a deal that could fetch nearly $7 billion.

“All of this is setting April up to be potentially a big month for M&A activity in the sector,” says Burrill.

The U.S. Supreme Court took center stage in March for the life sciences industry. In a unanimous decision, the court in Mayo v Prometheus ruled that a Prometheus test for determining optimal dosing for a given patient of certain gastrointestinal drugs based on levels of metabolites in the blood is not patentable because it relied solely on laws of nature. In another closely watched patent case, the Supreme Court has now ordered a Federal Appeals court to review its decision in a challenge to patents held by Myriad Genetics on two genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer and apply the Prometheus decision to that.

March also saw the Indian government take the unusual step of ordering a compulsory license of Bayer‘s patented kidney cancer drug Nexavar. The government ordered Bayer to license the drug to Natco Pharma, an Indian drugmaker. Natco will pay Bayer a 6% royalty and sell the drug for $176 a month. That compares to the $5,600 a month Bayer charges for the drug in India.

“As pharmaceutical companies turn to emerging markets as bright spots of growth, the action by the Indian government should prove quite sobering,” says Burrill. “Companies will need to think carefully about strategies for protecting their patent rights in these markets and may need to turn to partnerships with local companies to provide them with a solid footing.”

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