To megadeal or not to megadeal?

Since January 1, the pharmaceuticals world watched three of its biggest names go gently into the good night. Yes, those names are still around, but they're each preceded by another company name with an apostrophe and an S. As in Roche's Genentech, Merck's Schering and Pfizer's Wyeth.

So, we can say 2009 was a megamerger year, a year of buyout press conferences, antitrust asset sell-offs, and golden handshakes for departing executives. Even the companies that eschewed the megamerger in favor of smaller, strategic deals were in a way defined by it: They were the companies that didn't. Think GlaxoSmithKline's CEO Andrew Witty just saying No; Sanofi-Aventis chief Chris Viehbacher questioning megamergers' efficiency; Bristol-Myers Squibb helmsman Jim Cornelius not only avoiding the big deal, but selling off units to tighten his focus.

When 2010's ranking of pharma companies is rendered, we'll thus see some big shifts. Pfizer will stay No. 1, albeit with more room to spare ($64.2 billion in sales, using 2008 figures for Pfizer and Wyeth). Merck will vault up to No. 4 with $37.8 billion in sales, just past Sanofi-Aventis and just ahead of Novartis. And with $31.5 billion in sales, Roche will step up a slot to No. 7, taking Merck's former place.

That ranking is just an educated guess, however, because of all the smaller deals that the likes of Glaxo, Sanofi, and Novartis engaged in during 2009. Some notable ones: Sanofi's $4 billion buyout of animal health J.V. Merial and its recent $1.9 billion agreement to take over consumer healthcare firm Chattem; GlaxoSmithKline's 'targeted buy' of dermatology specialist Stiefel Labs for $3.6 billion; and Novartis and its $10.4 billion purchase of a 25 percent stake in eye health company Alcon (which included a second-stage option likely to come to fruition in 2010).

So we'll have to wait and see how the 2009 sales come out to know for sure how the new rankings stack up. And then wait again for confirmation from 2010 numbers. One thing's for sure: there's plenty of flux still ahead.