Could Amgen soften the Neulasta biosimilar blow with an Alexion buy?

amgen
Amgen could soon face multiple biosimilar threats to moneymaker Neulasta. (Amgen)

Amgen is staring down some major competitive threats to some of its biggest sellers, meaning an acquisition could be in order. And some industry watchers have just the target in mind.

Rare-disease specialist Alexion’s name has been floating around as a potential buy, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote to clients Monday. One reason? For Amgen to prepare for what will likely be more than $2 billion in lost revenue, it will need to swallow a company with more than $1 billion on its top line. And there just aren’t that many choices.

AstraZeneca? It’s much larger in terms of employees and global reach, and more diversified to boot.

“If Amgen makes this deal, it will no longer be Amgen—so lower odds,” Gal figures. Celgene ticks a few boxes, especially with current share prices putting it at a discount. But the biotech has its own forthcoming competitive threats, meaning “you are trading one problem for another.”

That leaves Alexion, which is “more manageable size-wise, big enough to offset a decline, recently validated long term and while pricey vs. the other two, not crazy valued either,” Gal noted.

RELATED: Can Mylan dodge Pfizer's Remicade woes with a low-priced Neulasta copy?

Of course, a big Amgen purchase isn’t a given. But if it’s going to make one, now would be the time. Mylan is readying its copy of Neulasta, which will roll out with a sticker price below Neulasta’s discounted price and could just be the breakthrough the biosimilars market has been waiting for, analysts say. Plus, three other companies are developing versions of the big seller, too.

Add that to the damage Sensipar generics will do when they hit next year, and “Amgen will have ~$2B+ decline in high margin revenue,” Gal said. And the California drugmaker’s CEO, Bob Bradway, “will want to get insurance that he can grow through a weaker revenue scenario” if growth from older sellers and newcomers Aimovig and Parsabiv can’t fill the gap.

Don’t expect Amgen to rush into a deal, though, especially considering the way its last big buy played out. Back in 2013, the company shelled out $10 billion on Kyprolis-maker Onyx, only to watch the multiple myeloma therapy struggle to live up to expectations.

Meanwhile, Alexion skipper Ludwig Hantson is no stranger to big M&A. Before stepping into the top spot at Alexion, he led Baxter spinoff Baxalta—a company he agreed to sell to Shire less than a year after taking the helm.

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