J&J gets staunch soloist Actelion to the bargaining table

Earlier this year, Actelion CEO Jean-Paul Clozel said the best path forward for his company was to keep flying solo. But now, he may be changing his tune.

Thursday, Johnson & Johnson confirmed that it was in preliminary takeover talks with the Swiss drugmaker, though it warned that they wouldn’t necessarily result in a deal. The pharma giant also pledged to stay mum on the discussions “until it is appropriate” to comment or the pair has struck a pact.

It’s no surprise that J&J is looking into potential new revenue streams, considering that Remicade biosimilars are on the way. In August, the New Jersey company lost a last-ditch court battle to shield its $4.5 billion superstar, and in October, Pfizer announced it would be coming for the anti-inflammatory blockbuster with its copy, Inflectra, late this month.

Actelion, though—a perennial subject of M&A rumors—has insisted lately that it was a buyer, not a seller. In April of last year, CFO André Muller told Reuters the company was “actively looking” for its own deals, and this past April, Clozel told Bloomberg that “if we want to continue to create shareholder value, the best for us is to remain independent.”

“We at Actelion—the board of directors, the management, the employees—are all building a company and not thinking about being sold the next day,” he said.

Going after its own deals hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk, though. Last November, AstraZeneca beat Actelion out in a battle for ZS Pharma, which the British company eventually snagged for $2.7 billion.

“With large-size acquisitions, we are falling into the hunting ground of large pharma companies, and they have very big pockets,” Clozel later said.

Actelion is plenty attractive as a target, though. New pulmonary arterial hypertension meds Uptravi and Opsumit are standing in for key aging med Tracleer, and Actelion’s execs have even predicted that Uptravi--priced between $160,000 and $170,000—could top the $1 billion-per-year sales mark.

Actelion isn’t just going to let that money sit around, though. The revenues Uptravi generates “will enable us to fuel our research and development efforts outside the pulmonary arterial hypertension franchise and to transform our company," Clozel told Reuters in January.