Playing catch-up on Big Biotech goal, Shire broadens M&A focus

Shire CEO Flemming Ornskov

Shire's ($SHPG) $54 billion tie-up with AbbVie ($ABBV)--and the subsequent cancellation of that deal--shook up employees and stalled CEO Flemming Ornskov's plans to transform the company into a biotech the likes of giants Gilead ($GILD), Biogen ($BIIB) and Celgene ($CELG). It also took the Dublin drugmaker off course in one of its other endeavors: dealmaking.

As Ornskov told The Wall Street Journal, his company is now playing catch-up to secure the deals that will help it on its way to Big Biotech status.

"We did lose 6 months," he said.

Last summer, AbbVie--looking to lessen its reliance on best-seller and biosimilar target Humira--agreed to snatch up Shire at a price the Irish pharma couldn't refuse. But it wasn't long before new, stricter rules on U.S. tax inversions scared the Illinois drugmaker off, bringing the deal crashing down.

For Shire, though, the setback was real. It lost out on one of its targets while the AbbVie takeover plans were occupying its time, and rivals upped the prices on the kinds of biotechs Ornskov had his eye on, the WSJ reports.

The result? Shire is now casting a wider net for pickup targets, the Journal notes. Yes, it's still focused on rare diseases, building up the business it strengthened with 2013's agreement to buy ViroPharma. But it's also looking at companies working on maladies that share things in common with rare diseases--a limited number of patients treated at specialized centers, for example.

For now, Ornskov says he's interested in adding meds and companies that work on diseases of the brain, stomach, eyes, hormones and metabolism. Any buys would follow this year's deal for NPS Pharma, a GI specialist that Ornskov started pressing employees to snag within days of the AbbVie deal collapse, Shire business development head Mark Enyedy told the paper.

And they're likely to happen quickly. "From the AbbVie situation, I understand that one opportunity cost is time," Ornskov said. "The longer something takes, the longer you wait, the greater the likelihood that you may not get it done."

- read the WSJ story (sub. req.)

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