What’s trending in pharma M&A?

Oct. 13, 2021
A closer look at two hot sectors for 2021 deal-making

Although 2021 has thus far been a year almost entirely devoid of pharma mega deals, the space has certainly not been quiet.

Shaking off the pandemic-induced deal-making lows of 2020, the pharma M&A landscape is healthy. Even though only one deal to date has hit the magical $10 billion-plus mark, the year’s top 10 M&As have all had values of $1 billion or more.

Some market analysts are predicting further uptick before the year’s end — a much rosier outlook than anticipated earlier, given the promise of increased scrutiny from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Back in March, the FTC announced a new working group, comprised of antitrust enforcers from around the globe, focused on taking “an aggressive approach to tackling anticompetitive pharmaceutical mergers.” The initiative vowed to more closely evaluate pharma mergers in light of concerns about anticompetitive behavior and drug pricing.

But pharma deals have largely gone unscathed and two sectors — mRNA and rare disease — are especially hot. Here’s a look at some key M&As:


MilliporeSigma buys AmpTec

MilliporeSigma, the life science arm of Merck KGaA, was fast out of the buying gates in 2021, snapping up German mRNA CDMO AmpTec in January. The plan? Combine AmpTec’s PCR-based mRNA technology with Millipore’s expertise in lipids manufacturing to truly beef up offerings across the mRNA value chain.

PCR technology is an important component of mRNA manufacturing — and AmpTec’s technology has proven to yield significant advantages.

In addition to specializing in mRNA technology, AmpTec has a diagnostics business that focuses on producing customized long RNAs and DNAs for in vitro diagnostics.

MilliporeSigma is already providing lipids, the star delivery device for mRNA therapeutics, to Pfizer-BioNTech for their COVID vaccines. The AmpTec buy (its price tag was not disclosed) will help firm up MilliporeSigma’s investment in mRNA, as the company continues to scale up.

Sanofi buys Tidal Therapeutics — $470M

Although not quite as large as other deals this year, Sanofi’s April purchase of Massachusetts-based Tidal Therapeutics set the stage for the French drugmaker’s deeper foray into mRNA.

Born out of a nonprofit launchpad called LabCentral, Tidal developed a novel mRNA-based approach for in vivo reprogramming of immune cells. The company has ongoing preclinical programs, including in vivo reprogramming of T-cells for cancer indications. Tidal’s technology platform will expand Sanofi’s research capabilities in both immuno-oncology and inflammatory diseases, and may prove applicable to other disease areas.

Following the Tidal deal, Sanofi launched a first-of-its kind mRNA Center of Excellence. Sanofi says the center will work to accelerate the development and delivery of next-generation mRNA vaccines.

Sanofi buys Translate Bio — $3.2B

Not done yet, Sanofi landed a $3.2 billion deal to buy Massachusetts-based Translate Bio.

Announced in August and completed mid-September, the deal hinged on Translate’s mRNA platform, which Sanofi hopes to use to develop transformative vaccines and therapies using mRNA technology. The companies had already teamed up to co-develop mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases in a partnership that started back in 2018.

Just recently, Sanofi announced that — despite positive data — it had pulled on the plug on the mRNA COVID shot acquired as part of its takeover of Translate Bio.

Given the already sufficient supply of authorized mRNA COVID vaccines, Sanofi said it plans to focus its mRNA resources on its newly created Center of Excellence to address future pandemics and other infectious diseases and therapeutics where there is a strong unmet need.

Rare disease

Jazz Pharmaceuticals buys GW Pharmaceuticals — $7.2B

One of 2021’s biggest value acquisitions happened in February when Jazz said it planned to buy GW Pharma for $7.2 billion, gaining GW’s approved cannabidiol Epidiolex, indicated for seizures associated with rare forms of epilepsy.

The deal, which closed in May, helped Dublin-based Jazz — already active in the rare disease space — strengthen its robust pipeline, which now includes clinical-stage development programs addressing unmet patient needs across neuroscience and oncology, including in sleep, movement disorders, psychiatry, hematology and solid tumors.

Horizon Therapeutics buys Viela Bio — $3.05B

Announced in February and completed a month later, Dublin-based Horizon’s $3.05 billion pipeline expanding play firmed up the company’s already strong presence in the rare, autoimmune and severe inflammatory disease arena.

With the purchase of Maryland-based Viela came its deep, mid-stage biologics pipeline as well as the commercial drug Uplizna, which is approved to treat neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, a rare, severe autoimmune disease.

AstraZeneca buys Caelum Biosciences — $500M

In late September, UK giant AstraZeneca announced its plan to acquire NJ-based Caelum Biosciences in a deal worth up to $500 million. The deal piggybacks off AstraZeneca’s monster $39 billion buy of rare disease specialist Alexion Pharmaceutical, announced late last year.

Per the latest deal, Caelum will become part of AstraZeneca’s Alexion division, giving AstraZeneca another potentially lucrative rare disease drug. Caelum’s drug candidate is a potential first-in-class treatment targeting AL amyloidosis, a rare life-threatening disease that damages the heart and kidneys.

Merck buys Acceleron Pharma — $11.5B

Just when you thought it was safe to say 2021 lacked mega-deals, in crashes Merck, with a whopping $11.5 billion deal to buy Massachusetts-based Acceleron.

The deal, aimed at helping Merck grow its rare disease portfolio, comes with Acceleron’s promising drug candidate, sotatercept, which targets pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare condition caused by high pressure in blood vessels that impact the lungs. Merck thinks the candidate has the potential to hit multi-billion dollar peak sales. As part of the acquisition, Merck will also pick up Reblozyl, a first-in-class injectable approved to treat anemia in certain rare blood disorders.


About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that b2b content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'