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How Did Biogen Miss AveXis?

Motley Fool Staff, The Motley Fool

Last week, Novartis (NYSE: NVS) acquired gene therapy company AveXis for $9.8 billion -- giving Novartis access to a treatment that could potentially make Biogen-Ionis drug Spinraza more or less irrelevant.

In this segment from Industry Focus: Healthcare, host Michael Douglass and Motley Fool contributor Shannon Jones talk about some reasons why Biogen might have skipped out on this acquisition, as perfect as it might seem, as well as what Biogen shareholders should watch out for in the near future.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on April 11, 2018.

Michael Douglass: Another question that I think a lot of people watching this deal are probably thinking is, what was Biogen thinking? Why didn't Biogen make this purchase? This is a drug that could directly impact Biogen's biggest success over the last couple of years, which was, to be clear, a partnered drug, they could have gotten the full rights to it, to this drug that, again, could be a lot bigger. They've certainly indicated that they're interested in companies kind of like AveXis. How did Novartis beat them to the punch?

Shannon Jones: That is the question of the ages, Michael. That is the reason why a lot of Biogen investors are probably scratching their heads right now. Of course, we can't see right now if this was some sort of a bidding war. If so, I really hope that Biogen was at the table for that conversation. If not, then I'm really disappointed that Biogen didn't at least try.

To your point, not only did this make sense from their own pipeline perspective, they are strategically refocusing themselves on neuroscience assets, they already have a preclinical gene therapy in play, so this would have made total sense for Biogen. The CEO has mentioned wanting to do more deals, and we really haven't seen that. There's been a couple of deals here and there, but we really haven't seen that yet. So, if it does come out that Biogen didn't even come to the table, if I was a Biogen investor, I would be really concerned.

Douglass: Yeah, I think that's very fair. And frankly, you look at Biogen, and they're incredibly concentrated. You look at their current revenue, it's basically multiple sclerosis. There's a little bit more, but that's pretty much it. You look at their pipeline, late-stage, we're looking at primarily Alzheimer's, which, companies unfortunately have an atrocious record at successfully bringing an Alzheimer's drug to market. It basically doesn't happen. Or at least, it hasn't happened historically, I suppose. So, it feels like there's a lot of concentrated risk there for a company that's that big. This could have been a great opportunity for them to diversify.

Of course, one of the things that Biogen's management said -- and I want to be clear here, they're not unique in this, pretty much everybody says this -- is that they want to buy things that will be accretive, but of course, they only want to buy at the right price. I'm not aware of any company that says, "We'll buy things at any price." But, it bears thinking here, did Biogen step away because they thought that the premium got too high?

Michael Douglass owns shares of Ionis Pharmaceuticals. Shannon Jones has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ionis Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.