The Top 10 Biopharma Deals of 2019

20 February, 2020

2019 was a big year for Biopharma M&A deals. The three largest deals—Bristol-Myers Squibb for Celgene, AbbVie for Allergen, and Amgen for Celgene’s psoriasis drug Otezla—together accounted for over $150B. The acquisition of Celgene by Bristol-Myers Squibb, valued at $74B, also broke records becoming the biggest pharma deal of all time.

Oncology deals remained prominent making headlines throughout the year from the Bristol-Myers Squibb acquisition of Celgene to buyouts of earlier-stage companies, such as Merck’s $2.7B deal with ArQule and Sanofi’s $2.5B takeover of Synthorx.

Following are the top ten biopharma deals of 2019. For a comprehensive picture of all the prominent deals of 2019, download our 2019 Biopharma Partnering and M&A Year in Review Infographic. This annual partnering and M&A activity poster offers business development leaders, investors, dealmakers and stakeholders an overview of the prominent collaborations and partnerships in biopharma forged over the last 12 months.

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2019 kicked off with the biopharma industry’s largest acquisition proposal ever when Bristol-Meyers Squibb announced a cash and stock deal for Celgene valued at $74B. Although the deal was finalized in November, it didn’t exactly go smoothly. Some shareholders expressed discontent with the transaction stating that the acquisition of Celgene put added and unnecessary risk on Bristol-Myers’ investors.


With AbbVie’s bread-and-butter drug Humira going off patent AbbVie investors have been pressing for a clear growth path for the company. Meanwhile, Botox maker Allergen has struggled with key clinical trials, legal defeats and other competitive threats. The solution? A merger between the two embattled businesses.

When the deal was unveiled in June, most viewed the merger as welcome news for Allergen—dubbing the sale as a “graceful exit for a beaten up name”—while multiple concerns were raised for AbbVie, the buyer.

The combination of the two companies creates the fourth-largest drugmaker, although whether that creates value remains an open question.


One of the byproducts of the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Celgene merger was that in order to win deal clearance, U.S. antitrust regulators would require that Celgene sell off their psoriasis drug Otezla. Many were surprised when Amgen revealed itself as the buyer for Otezla because their drug Enbrel is already a major psoriasis player.


In July 2018, Pfizer unveiled a reorganization that put off-patented drugs and oral generics into a unit with “substantial autonomy.” About the same time, Mylan initiated a strategic review as the generics giant was facing industry-wide pricing pressure in the U.S. among other woes. It didn’t take long for the two companies to find common ground. In July, it was announced that Pfizer’s medicines business, known as Upjohn, would merge with Mylan. Upjohn would issue $12B in debt and the proceeds would go to Pfizer.


Pfizer’s buyout of Array is their biggest M&A move to date, another big bet on cancer treatments after their deal for Medivation, which gave it blockbuster prostate cancer drug Xtqandi. The addition of oncology specialist Array gives Pfizer a pair of targeted cancer drugs that could give Pfizer some immediate return for its money and a strong R&D engine with a track record of innovation.


When Swiss pharma firm Novartis agreed to buy The Medicines Company for $85 per share in a $9.7B transaction some said it was too much. Though the deal was for the entire firm, it was really about just one drug: inclisiran. Inclisiran has posted LDL cholesterol –lowering clinical data comparable to Repatha and Praluent. According to data from a Phase III trial, inclisiran as an add-on to statin therapy cut bad cholesterol by 54%.


Eli Lilly’s $8B takeover of Loxo Oncology was a strong statement from the Indianapolis drugmaker of their commitment to continue their focus on cancer treatments. Oncology has been one of Lilly’s key focus areas, alongside diabetes, immunology and neuroscience. Now Lilly has tapped the team at Loxo to steer its oncology R&D warship.


When Bayer purchased Mansanto for $63B concerns were triggered that the company would not retain enough power to replenish the pharmaceutical business. That sparked an organizational shake-up that included selling off its animal health franchise to Eli Lilly spinoff Elanco for $7.6B. Growing lawsuits claiming that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller causes cancer only make the problem look more serious.

The sale to Elanco means that Bayer could complete a series of portfolio changes ahead of schedule. The merger will create the world’s second-largest animal health player, which is expected to deliver mid-single-digit growth, according to Elanco.


Roche’s rationale for buying Spark Therapeutics is fairly straightforward—they want in on the burgeoning gene therapy game, and Spark, developer of the first FDA-approved gene therapy, Luxurna, seems the perfect fit. Spark has both the development skill and the commercial know-how to navigate the complex gene therapy market.

10. NOVARTIS / TAKEDA’S XIIDRA — $3.4B (upfront)

When Takeda purchased the rare disease giant Shire in 2019 for $59B it incurred a huge debt load. One of the several divestitures to pair down that debt load was the sale of Shire’s legacy dry eye drug Xiidra to Novartis.

Novartis’ ophthalmology franchise includes age-related macular degeneration (AMD) drug Lucentis and Luxurna, among others. All told, Novartis’ eye drug franchise accrued sales of $4.5B in 2018.

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