Vertex sees dealmaking, CF meds as defenses against would-be buyers

Big Biotechs Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and Biogen ($BIIB) may both need to make acquisitions soon. But Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX) is determined not to be one of their targets.

Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden

"There's complete alignment in the employees, the management and the board that we can create more value for patients and we can create more value for shareholders by being independent," CEO Jeffrey Leiden told Bloomberg. And thanks to new combo med Orkambi, "we have a track record that we can really point to and say, 'This is the proof of that,'" he said.

Orkambi--which significantly widened solo cystic fibrosis med Kalydeco's patient pool when it won FDA approval this summer for patients with the F508del mutation--is also generating cash for the company, meaning Vertex may be able to do some shopping of its own.

Expect more deals like Vertex's recent $105 million agreement with gene-editing company CRISPR Therapeutics, Leiden told the news service; the company is scouting potential deals to make use of approaches such as gene therapy and RNA therapy.

Aside from bulking up, Vertex may have a couple other ways to keep wannabe buyers at bay. For one, its stock went on a tear in October, gaining 20%, Bloomberg points out. And for two, it's got a pair of high-priced therapies in Kalydeco and Orkambi that other companies may not want to take on amid recently heightened drug-price scrutiny.

"With all the political pricing pressure on drugs, you wonder if it's worth someone stepping in and buying them at that valuation right now," Maxim Group analyst Jason McCarthy told the news service.

That may not scare off a buyer like Gilead, though. The California company has recently faced an onslaught of "who are you going to buy?" questions, with pricey hep C fighters Sovaldi and Harvoni shattering launch records and racking up billions in cash flow. And thanks to those therapies, which have sparked outrage from payers like Express Scripts ($ESRX), Gilead has plenty of experience navigating the payer landscape with lofty sticker prices.

Industry-watchers have also suggested Vertex as a potential pickup for Biogen, too, which may need to make a move sooner rather than later to avoid being swallowed itself. The company recently announced more than 800 layoffs amid R&D misfires and slowing growth for key multiple sclerosis med Tecfidera.

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