Forget that 'no breakup' vow. Allergan's CEO now says a strategic review is happening

Saunders
Allergan CEO Brent Saunders Wednesday pledged swift action to address sagging shares. (Allergan)

Just over four months ago, Allergan CEO Brent Saunders told investors in no uncertain terms that a breakup of the company was “not on the table.” But now? All bets are off.

Wednesday at an investor conference, Saunders’ “message was clear that all strategic options are being evaluated,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Randall Stanicky wrote to clients. What’s more, the company is taking on the task “with a sense of urgency,” the analyst said.

“Allergan underscored it has a ‘bias for action’ which we thought was a notable comment,” Stanicky wrote. 

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RELATED: Cost cuts are coming for Allergan, CEO says. But a breakup isn’t

During last year’s third-quarter conference call, Saunders assured shareholders that a cost-cutting drive—not a breakup—would be the answer to Allergan’s share-price problems. Shortly thereafter, he and his team laid out plans to trim 1,400 positions to help cut annual costs by $300 million to $400 million.

Since then, though, things have largely gone downhill for the Dublin drugmaker. Its controversial Restasis licensing deal with a Native American tribe—meant to help the blockbuster drug avoid a patent challenge—didn’t work, leaving Allergan’s No. 2 seller vulnerable to that very loss.

As for its No. 1 seller, Botox? Mylan revealed just days later that it would team up with would-be challenger Revance on a biosimilar version of the Allergan blockbuster.

RELATED: Allergan's stock-price struggles sure to trigger breakup questions: analyst

And then came the FDA delay for Esmya, the uterine fibroid treatment Allergan’s working to bring to market. After European regulators announced they'd be reviewing Esmya's safety, the FDA pushed back its review deadline by three months, buying it time to carry out its own deep dive into the drug's potential to trigger liver problems.

Meanwhile, Saunders’ Wednesday message was music to Stanicky’s ears. The analyst has long been calling for an Allergan split, positing that business units such as women’s health could fetch up to $6 billion in a sale.

"We expect Street focus on asset sales to now more broadly pick up," he wrote.