Botox-maker back on big pharma merry-go-round

Cantillon: Abbvie seeks to broaden its base with $63bn bid for Allergan

Allergan: together with Abbvie, it  employs more than 2,300 people in Ireland.

Allergan: together with Abbvie, it employs more than 2,300 people in Ireland.

 

Abbvie’s $63 billion approach for Allergan is just the latest episode in what can be a generally bewildering cycle of making and remaking of businesses in the pharma sector.

The logic for Abbvie is to broaden its base as it eyes the looming patent expiry of its dominant product – the inflammatory disease blockbuster Humira, which is a key rheumatoid arthritis drug. So it moves to buy a company that is heavily dependent on what is clearly a legacy drug – Botox – to diversify.

In ways, it is simply turning back the clock. As recently as 2013, Abbvie was spun out of the diversified healthcare group Abbott Laboratories.

It’s not the first company to be taken by the financial charms of Botox. Before it was preoccupied by its own woes, Valeant sized up Allergan before it was acquired, in 2014, by a generics rival, Actavis.

Withering glare

Two years later, at the peak of the boom in tax-driven corporate inversions, Actavis, now renamed Allergan, was courted by Pfizer only for the deal to fail under the withering glare of the Obama White House.

Now it is Abbvie’s turn. Between them, in Ireland, Allergan and Abbvie employ more than 2,300 people. Almost all of these are outside Dublin, the bulk of them at Allergan’s plant in Westport, Co Mayo – the world’s only production plant for Botox.

FDA approval

That uniqueness should be enough to protect the workforce as this deal is bedded down: the last thing Abbvie wants is any disruption to the supply of Botox, which only this week won FDA approval for a new treatment area, further broadening its appeal.

For those workers, and others in the enlarged group, the bigger issue in the longer term is likely the cuts required to budgets – including presumably R&D budgets – to deliver the synergies pencilled in for the deal.

Getting the bottom line right now runs the risk of imperilling the prospects of future drug discovery. And that would only send it back to the market in search of another fix.

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