The Friday Five – Five of the past week's pharma stories you can't afford to ignore...

Amgen completes acquisition of Onyx

Amgen announced on Sunday (August 25) that it reached an agreement to acquire Onyx Pharmaceuticals for $125 per share, a modest increase on the US biotech company's opening offer of $120.

Mooted interest from a number of other potential suitors did not materialise in the form of rival bids, thus preventing an anticipated auction process for Onyx. Inflated biotech valuations and the price of the deal – which values Onyx at around $10.4 billion – were to blame for Big Pharma's lack of concrete bids, a number of industry commentators told FirstWord, whilst Stiefel analyst Stephen Wiley pointed out that Big Pharma continues to demonstrate "an unwillingness to acquire companies at valuations that hinge upon the outcome of binary events, be they clinical or regulatory (a reference to pending trial data for Onyx's key product Kyprolis), which will continue to act as a brake on the scope and magnitude of M&A within the mid-cap biotech space." See ViewPoints: As Amgen snags Onyx – where did all the Big Pharma interest go?

Larger pharmaceutical companies are nevertheless willing to pay a higher price for earlier-stage compounds, reported the Wall Street Journal on Thursday (August 29), but primarily via licensing deals (the volume of which is up 15 percent versus a year ago) rather than M&A activity (the volume of which is only up by 4.7 percent; and which has been heavily driven by the Amgen/Onyx tie-up – the biggest deal in the sector for some time).

Novo Nordisk looks well positioned with diabetes marketing battle set to intensify

With evidence to suggest that the marketing battle in the diabetes space has escalated recently, how manufacturers are perceived in the eyes of endocrinologists is certain to play an integral role in driving commercial success. Results from this week's FirstWord Physician Views poll demonstrate that Novo Nordisk continues to be recognised as the most effective diabetes marketing player in the US by some margin. Similarly, the company's Victoza franchise – a GLP-1 agonist – was cited as having been the most effectively detailed diabetes product by endocrinologists based in both the US and 5EU markets.

See Physician Views Poll Results – Novo Nordisk winning the US diabetes marketing battle and Physician Views Poll Results – Feedback from European endocrinologists suggests distinct marketing strategies needed in EU, US diabetes markets | Novo Nordisk winning the EU marketing push, but only just?

Results from the poll suggest an uphill challenge for AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb who are looking to revive the fortunes of their Bydureon franchise; integrated into the two companies diabetes focused joint venture via the $5.3-billion acquisition of Amylin Pharmaceuticals last year - see also In Focus: One year after the acquisition of Amylin is AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Bydureon franchise revivable?

Vasella continues to intrigue

Daniel Vasella – who announced his retirement as Novartis' chairman in January – retains his allure as one of the industry's few personalities. Any opportunity to make a quiet exit has been overshadowed by the compensation package that Vasella is set to receive, the value of which he defended this week.

Perhaps more significant, however, were the snippets of insight that Vasella gave into his strategic thinking in an interview with the Financial Times. The once often touted merger of Novartis and compatriot Roche was dusted down and described as something of a lost opportunity by Vasella who more intriguingly suggested that Roche should acquire back the stake that Novartis holds in order to get their "freedom" back.

Vasella's departure has been linked to a potential shift in strategic thinking at the company – a sell-off of the Roche stake one potential consequence. But with Vasella set to retain an influence on Novartis – where he will remain as a consultant – any suggestion that non-core units could be sold appeared to be ruled out.

See also ViewPoints: Was he worth it? Vasella commits loyalties to his Novartis legacy and Spotlight On: Daniel Vasella's legacy at Novartis.

Breakthrough therapy poster child ibrutinib gets two further nods from the FDA

Pharmacyclics announced on Thursday (August 29) that the FDA has accepted two marketing applications for its Johnson & Johnson-partnered product ibrutinib in previously treated mantle cell lymphoma and previously treated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic lymphoma.

Something of a poster child for the FDA's new Breakthrough Therapy designation, ibrutinib has been granted this status for three separate indications, two of which are those just accepted for regulatory submission by the FDA. Partially reflecting this, ibrutinib is currently forecast to have one of the most significant commercial impacts of any product to receive Breakthrough Therapy designation - see FirstWord Lists: FDA Breakthrough Therapy drugs.

In July, when the applications were first submitted by Pharmacyclics, Goldman Sachs analyst Navdeep Singh suggested that filing in CLL (based on Phase II data) comes a year ahead of schedule, and according to management was encouraged by the FDA. Analysts are now speculating that an earlier than expected application for ibrutinib could see the product approved by the end of 2013 (i.e. within five months).

AstraZeneca's buying spree continues, but is there something larger in the offing?

UK drugmaker AstraZeneca completed a fourth 'bolt on' acquisition this week when it announced the purchase of Amplimmune.
However, with analysts appearing to become increasingly less confident of revenue forecasts attached to AstraZeneca's base business and a weak share price performance since the end of May – when CEO Pascal Soriot initiated the company's recent buying spree – the drugmaker remains in many ways the most likely Big Pharma candidate to pursue a larger acquisition - see ViewPoints: AstraZeneca advances its bolt-on M&A strategy, but are analysts getting jittery?

Inflated valuations may have put suitors off bidding for Onyx and AstraZeneca's share price may have weakened in recent months, but as one industry expert recently told Firstword, an inflated valuation for AstraZeneca itself would allow Soriot to make a big and bold move. Pressure on him to do so may well increase.

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