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Pfizer Looking For Another Mega-Merger – This Time With AstraZeneca

Pfizer Looking For Another Mega-Merger – This Time With AstraZeneca
By: Sam Quest
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American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. (PFE) has put forward a bid of $100 billion for British AstraZeneca Plc (ADR) (AZN), according to a report published by London-based Sunday Times. The unofficial talks are currently inactive, with both sides decidedly quiet about the news.

The report cites a few senior investment bankers and industry insiders who are privy to the news that the unofficial offer was for £60 billion, which was quickly turned down by AstraZeneca. Although there are no known negotiations under way, Pfizer prides itself on pulling off some of the largest mergers and acquisitions in the industry, with the latest one the Wyeth acquisition for $68 billion in 2009.

AstraZeneca, the second-largest drug-maker outside of the UK, has been under the microscope as a potential acquisition target as it faces a patent cliff, with some of its major drugs losing exclusivity over the next few years. Notably, the company’s blockbuster high-cholesterol treatment drug Crestor will lose its patent in the next few years. However, a more immediate concern lies in the $4 billion hit the company could take with the loss of market share to generics for its heartburn and ulcer treatment drug, Nexium. This could occur as soon as next month.

Concerns remain about the company’s future growth due to the expiring patents – Astra’s revenues were down more than 6% for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2013 (4QFY13). The company expects sales to erode this year as well, though it believes that it has a strong and promising pipeline. Astra is working on its own, as well as in partnership, on drugs in which the human body uses its own immune cells to fight off cancer.

Pfizer, meanwhile, is facing a patent cliff of its own, the most recent ones being anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, and also the painkiller Celebrex, which lost market exclusivity after a court order earlier this year. The company is also looking to put to use its $70 billion trove of overseas cash. Bringing it back to the US will create a huge tax burden, and acquiring AstraZeneca could potentially lower the company’s overall taxes if it employs corporate inversion.

Since taking over the largest drug-maker in 2010, Pfizer’s CEO, Ian Read, has had conflicting opinions on whether or not to pursue any mega-acquisitions. He had earlier indicated that Pfizer was disinclined to pursue such ventures, but has since shown signs of interest, saying, “…Never say never to a larger acquisition that made sense.”

Although both sides are not commenting on the talks, a bid for AstraZeneca could be in the works, whether by Pfizer or a different drug-maker. Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG (ADR) (NVS) and AstraZeneca’s larger British peer GlaxoSmithKline Plc (ADR) (GSK) have been noted as potential players in the mix.

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