Is deal-making becoming more difficult? 
Posted by Carlos on Jun 20, 2011

The June, 2011 issue of Nature Drug Discovery has a interesting short article based on a survey conducted by our good friends at PharmaVentures. The authors surveyed 180 business development executives on their perceptions surrounding deal making.

One of the survey’s findings is that biotech BD executives believe that pharma licensees have greater power in driving deal terms due to their purchasing power. Conversely, pharma licensors believe that the biotechs have the power to drive terms because they are selling a scare asset(s). Another observation was that biotechs generally believed that upfront payments have dropped, while pharma executives believes that upfront payments have risen.

However, data from the PharmaVentures database suggest that these perceptions are not supported by the facts. According to PharmaVentures, the mean upfront deal value from 2006 is very close to the value in 2010.

The authors conclude (correctly, in our opinion) that these data reflect the real tensions existing in today’s market between desperate pharma companies looking to fill pipelines and desperate biotechs looking to monetize assets. While the former may cause bidding wars for highly sought after assets, the latter may cause downward pricing pressure from biotechs looking to remain financially alive (and hence willing to strike deals at lower values).

A singular observation made by the authors was:

We conclude that deal-making is strongly affected by issues other than the recent, persisting pressures in the financial environment – in particular, it is affected by the long standing failure of the research and development model of licensee pharmaceutical companies to produce sufficient late-stage assets, even through deal-making. [Emphasis added]

In other words, the authors note that pharma licensees have been unable to develop assets, irrespective of their source (internal discovery or external discovery). Thus, deal-making, even for “derisked” assets, does not actually increase the probability of successfully completing product development.

But why? Is it because big company bureaucracy interferes with product development? Is is that drug development is simply a remarkably difficult undertaking? Do we not understand pathophysiology well enough? Are the regulatory agencies becoming barriers to innovation?

The truth probably lies somewhere in between all of these factors, and likely others.

Now these results can be influenced by any number of factors, such as respondent experience, NCE versus non-NCE deals, therapeutic area, geographic scope of deals, asset maturity, etc. However, the results clearly point to issues that many of us in business development have noticed over the past few years, namely, that deal-making is more difficult, but not necessarily more rewarding, for either set of parties involved.

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