Following a month of frustration, Sanofi (SNY) is now pressing Medivation, which sells a blockbuster prostate cancer treatment, to accept a takeover offer that values the drug maker at roughly $9.3 billion.
The move comes amid growing interest among the largest pharmaceutical companies to bolster their portfolios of cancer drugs. The Xtandi treatment that is marketed by Medivation posted global sales of $1.9 billion last year, but could generate much more if the medicine is eventually approved to treat earlier stages of prostate cancer.
The bid is a necessary gambit for Sanofi, which is struggling to overcome ongoing weakness in its key diabetes franchise. Sanofi has encountered price discounting in the long-acting insulin market, which the company has dominated in the US thanks to its Lantus product. But Sanofi faces pressure from payers seeking discounts and forthcoming competition from a lower-cost biosimilar version.
By pursuing Medivation, the big drug maker hopes to jumpstart a modest stable of cancer medicines and become a fast-growing player in the booming oncology market. The drug maker had indicated last fall that it planned to pursue acquisitions, preferably in areas where it is has little strategic presence. Although once a strong competitor in oncology, Sanofi more recently has become a laggard.
“The current (Sanofi) oncology franchise is weak and populated by undifferentiated also-rans,” wrote Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson in an investor note Thursday morning. Medivation has plans to win regulatory approval to use Xtandi to also treat breast and liver cancer. The drug, by the way, has been targeted by some US lawmakers over its price.
Although Medivation must share Xtandi proceeds with Astellas, which jointly markets the drug, Anderson pointed out that Medivation is also attractive because it has less than $100 million in debt. This means that a deal would immediately add to Sanofi earnings.
In an open letter released Thursday morning that was addressed to Medivation chief executive David Hung, Sanofi chief executive Olivier Brandicourt expressed disappointment that, following an initial conversation on March 25, Hung ignored a follow-up phone call and a subsequent letter containing a proposal.
“We have not heard anything from you for almost two weeks, other than an acknowledgment of receipt of our letter,” wrote Brandicourt. “We do not understand the delay in responding to our letter. The price we put forth represents a very substantial premium, and it would be all cash without any financing condition.”
A successful deal would represent a notable accomplishment for Brandicourt, who arrived at Sanofi a year ago following months of turmoil at the drug maker. His predecessor, Chris Viehbacher, was dismissed after feuding with board members over a failure to disclose some of his plans and disagreement over strategic direction, as well as the difficulties in the diabetes business. To date, Brandicourt has been preoccupied reorganizing the drug maker.
We asked Medivation for comment and will update you accordingly. [UPDATE: Medivation released a statement saying the offer “does not differ materially from the private correspondence received less than two weeks ago,” but will be reviewed at a board meeting today].
Sanofi is not the only drug maker interested in Medivation, however. Other players in oncology, such as AstraZeneca (AZN) and Roche (RHHBY), have been rumored to be interested in the company. And Wall Street believes other bids may be made, which means a higher offer price is on the way.
“The question now is how high Sanofi is willing to bid, and who else might be tempted to jump in,” wrote Anderson. “There aren’t many quality assets like Medivation in oncology. With the deal likely to be accretive (to earnings) in anyone’s hands, it is just a matter of price now.”