Allergan Is a $63 Billion Botox Job for AbbVie
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- When the maker of the top-selling arthritis drug says it’s buying a leader in anti-wrinkle treatments, you’d be forgiven if your initial response to the news was that it seems like a match made in heaven. But take a closer look, and AbbVie Inc.’s $63 billion purchase of Botox maker Allergan Plc isn’t such a perfect fit.
AbbVie is desperate for diversification as sales of its $19 billion arthritis blockbuster Humira begin to slow; in Allergan, it has the opportunity acquire a rival at a relative bargain. Even at a 45% premium to Allergan’s closing share price Monday, AbbVie is paying a fraction of what the drugmaker was worth just a couple of years ago, and Botox is still growing.
The deal is projected to net big synergies: AbbVie projects cost savings from the combination will plump up its bottom line by $2 billion within three years. But AbbVie's most significant problem isn't the next few years. It's figuring out how to grow when Humira's sales take a real dive starting in 2023. It’s not clear that Allergan will be much help there, and the early reaction from AbbVie shareholders suggests they have doubts:
The long-term outlook for Botox is a matter of debate. The toxin, which is used to both smooth wrinkles and treat migraines, has impressive brand recognition and a solid grip on the market. But a cheaper competitor on the market from Evolus Inc. was recently approved, and another from Revance Inc. has produced compelling data and is on the way.
On top of that, there’s a new class of preventative migraine drugs on the market, which could pressure Botox’s market share from a different angle. Botox has held up so far. But these pressures are only going to increase over time, and its best days of growth are likely in the past. There’s a decent chance that its sales will flatten just as Humira’s begin to crater when biosimilar copycats hit the U.S. market in 2023.
Then there’s the question of what AbbVie gets outside of Botox from Allergan’s pharmaceutical business. The fit is questionable; AbbVie is principally focused on cancer and drugs for inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Allergan doesn’t add anything significant there. So is the quality. Aging products, questionable deals, and research failures have battered Allergan’s stock to the point where investors have been calling for a breakup of the company or a change in management.
Allergan has a few growing marketed products, including gastrointestinal drug Linzess and anti-psychotic treatment Vraylar. But there’s little in its late-stage development pipeline to get excited about, especially given its poor recent track record in R&D. Allergan adds little in the way of the research capability required to discover new medicines, and that’s by design. The company has deliberately focused on acquiring assets that others have developed.
AbbVie’s acquisition track record since it separated from Abbott Laboratories in 2013 is shaky. Pharmacyclics Inc. netted it half of a good cancer drug at a bruising price, and its $5.8 billion acquisition of Stemcentrx Inc. looks like a complete flop. The company’s biggest deal yet may not improve its reputation.
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Max Nisen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, pharma and health care. He previously wrote about management and corporate strategy for Quartz and Business Insider.
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