In 10 years of M&A, which were stars—and which were duds? We want you to decide

Two businessmen shaking hands in a hallway
Photo by Sam Edwards, via Getty Images.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve covered scores of deals—and rumors of deals—be they small, large or mega. And as our traffic reports show, pharma readers love M&A news almost as much as they love our top 10 (or 20) lists.

Some of the M&A talk was preposterous, if fun to discuss at the office. Other rumored deals seemed too big to be true until they actually happened. 

Some were hard-fought bidding contests. Some were outright hostile. Others flew smoothly from bidding right into closing.

Some worked. Some didn’t work as well. (More on that in a minute.)

Looking back over the last 10 years of biopharma M&A—and the news about it—two things are obvious: One, deal rumors never die. Two, actual mergers and buyouts have changed the industry landscape, but not as much as one might expect.

Take Pfizer. In August 2007, Pfizer was rumored to be eyeing a deal for Sanofi, then called Sanofi-Aventis. That didn’t happen, obviously. The same month, Bayer shares were up on talk that Novartis might snap it up. Also didn’t happen.

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But in mid-August, word went around that Pfizer might buy Wyeth, and at least one analyst figured Wyeth would be a bargain at the price. Less than two years later, voilà! Pfizer bought Wyeth for $65 billion, and that merger is still the biggest deal of the last 10 years.

Now, leap forward to the present. What’s the talk about Pfizer? That it needs to make a megadeal. It has tried, of course; in 2014, the company made a run at AstraZeneca with a bid of around $100 billion. AstraZeneca fought it off. It agreed to buy Allergan, but new tax rules scuttled that deal in 2015. Some investors are hoping the third time would be the charm—maybe with a deal for Bristol-Myers Squibb or even AstraZeneca.

And what’s the talk about Novartis? Despite the Swiss drugmaker’s assurances that it’s not shopping for a huge buy, industry matchmakers have floated AstraZeneca as a buyout target. Or Bristol-Myers, maybe. Bayer? That rumor apparently died back in 2007, and with the Germany-based company ready to swallow Monsanto, isn’t likely to be resurrected soon.

In fact, Pfizer notwithstanding, we haven’t seen much in the way of megamerging in more recent years. That wave of deals in 2009 hasn’t been matched since. Some would say that's a good thing; a recent paper found that huge M&A hurt innovation not only at the companies involved but also the companies around them. And a 2014 paper that deemed most big buyouts a win for shareholders touched off a quick, fiery debate, complete with immediate rebuttal.

Every proposed merger draws criticism and praise, of course, but at the time, it's tough to tell whether they'll really pay off. With some hindsight? We'll let you cogitate.

Mergermarket gathered the stats on the biggest deals of the past 10 years for us, with Pfizer-Wyeth—affectionately termed Wy-Pfi at the time—at the top. Pfizer announced that $65 billion deal on January 26, 2009, Mergermarket says. Days later, on January 30, Roche said it would shell out $44.3 billion for the shares of Genentech it didn’t already own. And just over a month after that, Merck released the news that it would merge with Schering-Plough in a deal valued at $43.2 billion.

Of course, big doesn’t mean best, and some of the bigger deals of the decade have come in for criticism as well as praise, including Wy-Pfi and the Merck-Schering combo. More recently, investors and analysts have pilloried Teva’s $39.6 billion buyout of Allergan’s generics business, and Novartis’ Alcon purchase, back in 2010, looks less prescient than it might have at the time, given the unit’s recent performance.

Small deals—particularly deal prices—haven’t escaped the tomatoes either. But just as a few of the megadeals have proven their worth since, some of the smaller deals of the last decade have bolstered their buyers, sometimes richly. Consider Gilead Sciences’ $11 billion Pharmasset buyout, which seemed huge at the time, but has paid off repeatedly with the hepatitis C drugs it yielded.

Now that we’ve cast an eye backward, we’d like you to take stock of the present. Which of the past decade’s deals have turned out to be the best buys? Which were the biggest flops? We’re taking nominations this week. Send us your best and worst, small, medium and large. We’ll draw on your nominees for a vote later this month.

You have until Monday, August 14, at 3 p.m. to submit your ideas here. We’ll include some of your comments about your picks in our coverage next week. Comments, questions, suggestions? Please get in touch.