Analysts expect M&A frenzy to continue with deals by Pfizer, AbbVie, Valeant likely in 2015

Pharma M&A in 2014 hit a record-breaking $234 billion in announced acquisitions. Actavis ($ACT) led the pack with its $66 billion bid for Botox maker Allergan ($AGN) and $25 billion buyout of Forest Laboratories. But investors and analysts say 2015 could generate as many or more deals, with Pfizer ($PFE), Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX), AbbVie ($ABBV) and Shire ($SHPG) expected to be in the mix.

"2014 was clearly the year of the big deal," Rich Jeanneret, vice chair of EY's transaction advisory services, told Bloomberg. "I think that's going to persist in 2015 because there's much more confidence in the M&A ecosystem."

There also is cheap capital and the need to grow, and for the big boys, "the only real place they can find growth is through acquisition," Jeff Stute of JPMorgan Chase & Co. told the news service.

There was a raft of deals that didn't get done for one reason or another last year, and investors handicapping possibilities in the runup to next week's JPMorgan Health Conference in San Francisco see each of those players as possible deal makers. Pfizer's failed $117 billion bid last year for AstraZeneca ($AZN) would have dwarfed any of the buyouts that actually happened. But since it didn't happen, and since Pfizer is still in the hunt, it is seen as the company that will define the size of the M&A action this year. Investors think Pfizer might target Actavis, or a more R&D centric player like Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) or GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK).

But other companies are also expected to be hungry for deals, investors say. Ireland's Shire, which had been a takeover candidate of AbbVie before changes in the tax inversion laws laid that $55 billion deal to rest, is reported to already be negotiating a $4 billion plus deal with NPS Pharmaceuticals. And AbbVie may be looking to buy someone else, given that its lead product Humira goes off patent in the U.S. next year, and its other offerings, even the newly approved hepatitis C cocktail, Viekira Pak, can't be expected to make up the $10.6 billion that Humira now earns. But AbbVie is also seen as a potential target, with some investors banking on a bid from Pfizer.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals, whose hostile takeover of Allergan was scuttled by Actavis, is also a likely buyer, but according to a Cantor Fitzgerald note, may be looking for companies in the dental field, Bloomberg said. It already owns eye care specialist Bausch + Lomb. Valeant's effort was backed by Bill Ackman's activist fund Pershing Square, which garnered $2.5 billion even though it backed the wrong horse. It is expected to be a catalyst in potential deals this year. It has already taken a stake in Zoetis ($ZTS), the animal health spinoff of Pfizer which leads in that category.

Cheap money alone may keep the M&A market active, Nasdaq biotech specialist Joe Rosenberg told Bloomberg. "We are not hearing anything that would suggest a decrease in acquirers' M&A appetites heading into 2015."

- read the Bloomberg story

Special Report: Pharma's top 10 M&A deals of 2014's first half

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