Thursday, April 12, 2012

AMGN & AZN get creative

Suspicions are often aroused when two of the biopharma "big boys" partner up. Is the company originating the technology trying to hedge their bets and take some money off the table? Is the 'buying' partner inadvertently saying that their R&D efforts are inferior to their new partners'?

I would ignore the doubts in the case of last week's announced partnership between AZ and AMGN. The 2 companies will work together to develop 5 different anti-inflammation biologics, splitting costs and program responsibilities. The prospective costs and benefits are measured in billions.

Abbott's Humira (anti-inflammation biological) is a $9B product. No need to be greedy with a market that big. Both AZ and AMGN increased the chances of gaining a slice of that market, with the risk & costs roughly halved. Where some analysts are sour on the tie-up, I think it is good risk management, and I'd like to see more deals like these rather than less. (I also think this is very creative. More of that too, please!)

I like the deal a lot, but I'm not too sure that Wall Street does. Here's a quick look at how both stocks have performed in the <2 weeks since:

(Link to dynamic GOOG finance chart.)

So, AMGN is down with the market, AZ up 1.2%, so perhaps the Street thinks this is a win for AZ, and nothing new for AMGN.

I think the stakes for these two companies are higher than most recognize. For AMGN, this deal preserves their independence for a half of a decade. Without a partner, AMGN would either be betting the company on their inflammation program, or pruning the five programs just to save cash (or both.)

For AZ, they've just fattened their pipeline with high leverage R&D assets. If you believe that the cost of getting a drug to market is largely static independent of market size, AZ just gained some mid-stage leads that only cost half as much as usual to bring to market and while they only get half of the upside, halving a ginormous market 9X larger than a 'basic' blockbuster while halving the costs is a GREAT trade.

(Side note: I wonder how it would look if we similarly evaluated pharma pipelines not for risk adjusted expectations, but instead as a ratio of upside$ per R&D investment $. I'll put a little more thought into this, as my quick guess is that GENZ's rare disease approach would rank dead last in terms of upside per R&D dollar, even though we know it is a great business for them.)

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