Should AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb Get Married?


It's been quite a while since we had a big wedding in the pharma world. Sure, there have been plenty of small acquisitions, but no really big merger has happened over the past few years. One potential pharmaceutical friendship often rumored to possibly develop into something more serious involves AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb . Would a marriage between these two companies be a match made in heaven? Let's take a look.

Going to the chapel
If AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers were people, we could easily spot one good reason for them to get married: They have a lot in common. Just look at the two companies' portfolios.

Both organizations boast a strong presence in the cardiovascular market. AstraZeneca's Crestor stands as a leading cholesterol drug with sales over $6.2 billion in 2012. Bristol-Myers' blood thinner, Plavix, brought in $2.5 billion in sales.

Neuroscience stands out as another strong area for both companies. AstraZeneca made $2.8 billion last year from Seroquel IR and Seroquel XR schizophrenia and bipolar disorder drugs. Bristol-Myers' Abilify treats the same indications and likewise brought in around $2.8 billion in 2012 sales.

Of course, it's also important that married couples have differences that complement each other. That's true for our two potential lovebirds. While sales for AstraZeneca's Nexium and Losec/Prilosec are slowing down, they're still contributing significantly. Bristol-Myers doesn't count any gastrointestinal products among its leading drugs.

However, Bristol-Myers Squibb can claim success in at least one area that isn't strong for AstraZeneca -- treatment of HIV and AIDS. Combined sales for the company's Reyataz and Sustiva HIV drugs topped $3 billion last year.

Another argument in favor of AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers getting hitched is that they have children together. Well, sort of. Bristol-Myers Squibb bought Amylin Pharmaceuticals last year for around $7 billion. Nearly half of that amount was financed by AstraZeneca. Both companies share in the profits from Amylin's diabetes drugs, including Bydureon and Byetta.

This wasn't the first time AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers collaborated in the diabetes arena. The two companies previously developed Onglyza together. However, sales for Onglyza weren't as strong as hoped for as Merck's Januvia won greater market share. They also partnered on Forxiga, which has encountered its own difficulties.

Staying single
Cupid might need to shoot his arrows in another direction, though. There are at least a couple of reasons why a marriage between AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers could be unlikely to happen.

First, both companies like to play the field quite a bit. While AstraZeneca's relationship with Bristol-Myers has been close, the British drugmaker's ties with Merck have been even closer in some ways. The company has also forged alliances with smaller companies, including a deal with Isis Pharmaceuticals for developing cancer drugs using Isis' antisense technology. But the real merger prospect for AstraZeneca most frequently mentioned of late is Forest Labs. Several analysts see the company as an ideal fit for AstraZeneca.

Meanwhile, Bristol-Myers and Pfizer are joined at the hip with blood thinner Eliquis. The drug, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December, is expected to be another blockbuster for both companies. Bristol-Myers also has had an alliance in the past with Sanofi, but that relationship appears to be winding down with loss of patent exclusivity for Plavix in several markets. As with AstraZeneca, other smaller companies have been rumored as targets for Bristol-Myers.

The second reason this marriage might not happen is that neither company's pipeline could be strong enough to offset patent cliff losses for the other. And those potential losses are large.

AstraZeneca's U.S. exclusivity for Atacand, Losec/Prilosec, Seloken/Toprol-XL, and Seroquel IR already expired. Nexium faces generic competition next year, with Crestor going off-patent in 2015. These drugs totaled around $6.5 billion in U.S. sales during 2012.

Bristol-Myers lost patent protection for Plavix and Avapro last year. The company faces possible generic rivals for Baraclude this year. Sustiva goes off-patent in the U.S. by the end of 2015. Bristol-Myers also loses commercialization rights for Abilify around the same time. These drugs combined for nearly $9 billion in 2012 sales.

Speak now
In real weddings, the point usually comes where the minister says that if anyone has reason that the parties shouldn't be married, they should "speak now or forever hold their peace." So, just in case a marriage between these two companies is actually under consideration, allow me to speak up.

I don't think a merger between AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers would serve the best interests of either company's shareholders. My preference would be for both companies to pursue smaller deals with companies that have great near-term growth catalysts. And I think this scenario is much more likely, by the way. I hope AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb will be happily married -- but just not to each other.

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