Abbott spin-off AbbVie: Acquirer or target?

A pharmaceutical takeover rumor is in the air.

By Stock Traders Daily Jan 24, 2013 3:39PM

Droplet Falling from Pipette into Test Tube copyright Andrew Douglas, Radius Images, Getty ImagesBy Barry S. Cohen 

 

Newly minted pharmaceutical company AbbVie (ABBV) is still in diapers, but there is some question as to whether the Abbott Laboratories (ABT) spin-off will even advance to taking baby steps before it's adopted by another family.

 

Rumors persist that potential suitors for AbbVie include Bristol Myers-Squibb (BMY) and Roche (RHHBY). Bristol needs a boost to its pipeline and may be looking longingly at what AbbVie has in the works: 10 drugs in pivotal-stage testing and more than 10 in mid-stage trials. 


Roche seems to be a less likely acquirer since its focus seems to be more on gene sequencing than a big pharmaceutical merger.  


Among the drugs being tested by AbbVie is a potentially promising next-generation hepatitis C drug; the intestinal gel Duopa for the treatment of advanced Parkinson's disease; daclizumab for multiple sclerosis; and new indications for Humira, which already has nine indications and another four in late-stage development, such as pediatric Crohn's disease.


If it survives as an independent company, AbbVie will certainly need many of those drugs being tested to be winners. That's because the company today is pretty much a one-trick pony, with its anti-inflammatory Humira accounting for about half of AbbVie's $18 billion in annual sales and about 70% of the company's profits.

 

The big challenge will be in 2016, when Humira's patent expires. The drug is also facing some formidable competition, including Pfizer's (PFE) Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis, which got FDA approval in November 2012. More competition is on the horizon, too, when baricitinib -- from Eli Lilly (LLY) and Incyte (INCY) -- enter the market. AbbVie lost patent protection for a couple of key cholesterol drugs last year -- TriCor and Trilipix -- and Niaspan falls off patent this year, putting another $835 million in sales at risk.

 

Some have speculated that AbbVie may be an acquirer rather than a target. But the company says it has no plans to use its $7 billion in cash to make a large acquisition, confident that its pipeline will meet future revenue growth.

 

The company may be interested in some smaller acquisitions and licensing arrangements, though. With a large sales force and an established research base, AbbVie should be an attractive partner for smaller companies seeking to develop and commercialize their products. 


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