Back in Fashion: Discovery Platforms (Certain Kinds, at Least)
After the millennial boom in genome-related financings, platform companies went into hiding, surfacing again a few years later in product costume. But much of that has changed. Platforms are getting fed again-largely because, one step higher on the food chain, buyers have an appetite for them.
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In a still-frozen IPO market, acquisition has become the go-to exit for biotech VCs, but an analysis of the past four years' deals suggests the market may have peaked. Of more than 180 private biotech acquisitions since 2005, fewer than half in each year resulted in a reliable exit for investors, and those numbers are trending downward. Although the most active acquirers amounted to a list of the usual suspects, the bulk of acquisitions were conducted by a diverse set of smaller public and still-private firms. We also review the characteristics of those companies that have had success in terms of good exits for investors.
Pharma companies are bullish about biologics, seeing them as at least a partial solution for the pipeline troubles and reimbursement challenges bedeviling the industry. The major question is how best to bring these new biologics capabilities in-house--either piecemeal through a series of smaller acquisitions and licensing deals or in one fell swoop through the acquisition of a player with soup-to-nuts capabilities. Both strategies require delicate post-merger management skills, but many feel acquiring an end-to-end player is a faster, less risky solution to filling the biologics gap. But because few end-to-end biologics players are left for acquisition, in the future it seems likely that Big Pharma will be forced to make a serial acquisition strategy work.
Alnylam's monster deal with Roche for non-exclusive rights to the biotech's RNAi platform across four therapeutic areas sets the bar for technology platform monetization. Not only is Alnylam gaining $331 million in upfront payments, it can turn around and re-license those same rights at any time. Roche is for the first time making a splash in RNAi, which it and other companies are betting will be a new therapeutic modality.