Will flush-with-cash Big Pharma beat Takeda to a Shire deal?

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Pfizer and AbbVie have been in the conversation as potential Shire bidders, according to Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal. (Image: Shire)

Takeda hasn’t even approached Shire with a buyout offer yet, but its mere plans to submit one could spark competing bids. And the competition could happen quickly, thanks to U.K. takeover rules. “If there are other bidders, they would arguably need to mobilize in the near term,” Jefferies analyst David Steinberg explained.

The Japanese drugmaker’s Wednesday interest announcement started a ticking clock. Under those rules, Takeda must stipulate submit a bid by April 25 or walk away.

The way Steinberg sees it, because of Shire’s near-term “challenges in the hemophilia market”—think new competition from Roche’s Hemlibra—investors “could perhaps be amenable to another $50 billion-plus bid from interested parties.”

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Those parties would likely include Big Pharmas, many of which boast increased dealmaking bandwidth with U.S. tax reform. In December, The Telegraph reported that several large drugmakers from both sides of the pond were rumored to be circling the hard-hit biotech.

“We expect most large cap pharma companies have a takeout model of Shire,” Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in his own note to clients, adding that, “Takeda's announcement will force them to make a decision” about “whether they want to step up.”

Ever-deal-ready Pfizer and AbbVie—which has already agreed once to buy Shire, only to see its efforts scuttled by U.S. Treasury laws—are “the names referenced most often,” Gal noted, and they’re also two of the biggest beneficiaries of the tax changes.

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Neither, though, is a “perfect suitor,” he wrote, and they’ve also both “been discussed as having preference elsewhere.” Pfizer, in particular, has long been rumored to be eying Bristol-Myers Squibb and/or AstraZeneca, both key immuno-oncology players that could vault Pfizer’s position in the lucrative field.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how Takeda—whose valuation sits below Shire’s—would fund a transaction, especially considering that both are shouldering a “fair amount of debt,” Steinberg pointed out. Takeda’s sitting with $11 billion, while Shire’s racked up $19 billion.