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Is Big Pharma on the verge of a buying spree?

Analysts: Cash-rich drugmakers primed for $10B-plus deals
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Look--out on the horizon. It's not a bird, or a plane or a megadeal of the 2009 variety. It's a superdeal, a buyout of $10 billion or more. And according to analysts, pharma is about to hopscotch through a series of them.

As Bloomberg reports in advance of JPMorgan's annual healthcare conference, which begins today, Big Pharma is buffed up for M&A action. Slimmed down after cost-cutting programs and flush with cash, top drugmakers are out shopping--because they're still in need of new revenue and new drugs to fill the gaps left by newly off-patent blockbusters.

"With cost restructuring and portfolio realignments largely behind us, pharma is now more ready to make bigger moves again," JPMorgan Chase's Henry Gosebruch told the news service. "They are going to be back in a more aggressive way."

Take Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), which suffered some unexpected R&D flops last year, and AstraZeneca ($AZN), which has a new CEO eager to prove he can turn the company around. Both lost big blockbusters in 2012; Bristol's Plavix sales plummeted after it went off patent last spring, and AstraZeneca's Seroquel took a similar swan dive. As Bloomberg notes, Leerink Swann analysts peg these two drugmakers, along with Eli Lilly ($LLY), as perhaps the most active--if not desperate--buyers.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Sanofi ($SNY), Pfizer ($PFE) and Merck ($MRK) are eyeing Bausch + Lomb ($BOL), the eye care company, a potential deal pegged at $10 billion or more. They all have big holes to fill: Sanofi was Bristol-Myers' partner on Plavix. Pfizer's Lipitor is a ghost of its former on-patent self. And Merck's top seller, Singulair, succumbed to generic rivals last year as well.

Conveniently enough, these companies have the liquidity to make some deals. Bloomberg tallies up $23 billion for Pfizer, $19.8 billion for Merck, $6.9 billion for Lilly and $19.8 billion for J&J.

Not so conveniently, Big Pharma has a larger set of rivals to compete with for deals, Ernst & Young stated in a new report. "The pool of potential suitors that could pay up to $20 billion has swelled," the firm said (as quoted by Bloomberg).

And some of that cash is already earmarked for stock buybacks. Lilly just announced a new multibillion-dollar buyback plan, and several other Big Pharmas are in the throes. AstraZeneca's new CEO, Pascal Soriot, halted his company's repurchases his first day on the job, possibly to conserve cash for dealmaking.

- read the Bloomberg analysis

Special Report: The top M&A dealmakers in biopharma

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