Big Pharma swallows billions in biotechs

Megamergers may have grabbed most of the headlines of late, but drugmakers snapped up plenty of small firms last year, Ernst & Young points out. In 2008, pharma swallowed some $28.5 billion worth of U.S. biotech companies, just a few billion short of a $33 billion record in 2007. And if you back out AstraZeneca's 2007 buyout of vaccine maker MedImmune--a whopping $15.6 billion deal--then 2008 totted up the highest biotech M&A total ever.

The 2008 deal roster includes Takeda's $8.8 billion acquisition of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which makes the multiple myeloma treatment Velcade, and Eli Lilly's $6.5 billion deal for ImClone Systems, maker of cancer-fighter Erbitux. Meanwhile, pharma took some $5 billion in European biotechs under its wing last year, including Novartis' purchase of the Swiss firm Speedel for $932 million.

And as you know, the action is far from over. Sanofi-Aventis' buyout of cancer drug specialist BiPar Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline's deal for Stiefel Labs are only two of the most recent examples. You also know the litany of reasons why big drugmakers are continually scouting for opportunities to buy, but we'll summarize anyway: Too many drugs going off patent, too few promising new prospects in the pipeline. If we were the betting type, we might put a few bucks on a new M&A record for 2009. How about you?

- check out FiercePharma's report on the top 10 deals of 2008
- see the Bloomberg story