Oh, what a tangled web of pharma M&A, starring Pfizer, Actavis, Allergan and Salix

Anyone else feel like we need a mind map to keep track of the incestuous M&A talks going on in pharma right now? Monday evening, The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Allergan ($AGN) was close to a deal for Salix ($SLXP)--at least it thought it was last month. So close that Allergan snubbed a buyout offer from Actavis ($ACT).

Then, Tuesday morning, Bloomberg reported that all the chatter about Pfizer ($PFE) shopping Actavis was, in fact, true. Citing sources, the news service did note that talks didn't appear to be active at the moment. The Wall Street Journal then reported that it was Actavis that bowed out. "It's unclear why," the Journal wrote.

Maybe it's because Actavis moved in on Salix, with an eye to shoving its former buyout target aside. (That would be Allergan, in case you've lost track.) CNBC reported this morning that Actavis and Salix are in early talks for a deal. Those talks may have hit a snag, however, and they're certainly preliminary, the network notes.

"They have not gotten far down the road there, in contrast to the Allergan/Salix discussions, which have been going on seriously for weeks," CNBC reporter David Faber said on-air.

Meanwhile, Allergan is still defending itself against a hostile bid from Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX), which is teamed up with top Allergan shareholder Pershing Capital Management, a.k.a. Bill Ackman. Obviously, if Actavis actually were to reach a deal with Salix, that would complicate Allergan's defense. It would also complicate Salix's own plan to snap up Italy's Cosmo Pharmaceuticals, but that plan wasn't popular with shareholders anyway.

So, Valeant wants Allergan, which wants Salix, which wants Cosmo. Actavis wanted Allergan (maybe still does) and wants Salix. Pfizer wanted AstraZeneca (almost certainly still does), but it took a stab at Actavis as a solid substitute. Any questions?

- get the Bloomberg coverage
- see the CNBC transcript

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