A federal judge's decision yesterday to uphold the patent on
blood thinner Plavix has revived speculation that the drug's co-marketers could
join forces. Analysts, however, cast doubt on the idea that Bristol-Myers
Squibb would merge with its larger partner Sanofi-Aventis.
US District Judge Sidney Stein said that BMS and Sanofi are entitled
to a permanent injunction barring generic drug firm Apotex, which had brought
the challenge, from infringing on its patent. Apotex faces no significant
damages for its at-risk launch, since ex-Bristol CEO Peter Dolan negotiated
away those rights in a settlement which was designed to keep generic Plavix off
the market but fell apart. Thanks to the ruling, though, and the recent sunset
of a two-year federal probation period that had weighed on BMS, rumors are once
again flying of a takeover.
Meanwhile, a recent setback for Sanofi could push the Franco
powerhouse to acquire new products via buyout: last week’s rejection by an FDA advisory
panel of its experimental obesity drug Zimulti, once deemed a possible $3
New CEO James Cornelius may be more comfortable going it
alone. Why? He just signed drug-development deals with Pfizer and AstraZeneca. "The
fact that some of Bristol’s
interesting products had already been licensed out undercut its value as a
pipeline-booster for Sanofi," said an analyst with Aurel Leven who was quoted
management also may feel less pressure to sell out given the success of newer
drugs like Abilify for schizophrenia, Orencia for rheumatoid arthritis and
Sprycel for cancer, Reuters pointed out. Sanofi management, on the other hand, aren’t
in agreement that a deal makes sense. "Chief Executive Gerard Le Fur is said to
be cool to the idea."
Besides, wrote Forbes, a sale by Bristol "would run the risk of derailing the
company’s pipeline." The firm recently launched medicines for rheumatoid
arthritis and leukemia, and yesterday it received FDA six-month review status for
a new chemotherapy for breast cancer (ixabepilone). Diabetes and breast cancer compounds are
in development. Moreover, with its legal woes in the rearview mirror, "Bristol
could look attractive to other pharmaceutical companies, like AstraZeneca,
GlaxoSmithKline or Pfizer, leading to a bidding war."
Prevailing wisdom prior to the Plavix ruling held that BMS
and Sanofi had a strong case in the patent trial. And there is a "slight chance"
Apotex could win on appeal. The good news, however, "strengthens the
opportunity for management at Bristol
to reassess an independent future," said a Mehta Partners analyst quoted by
Patent protection on Plavix runs until November 2011. The drug had annual US
sales of nearly $4 billion before the Apotex generic was launched and global
sales of $6 billion.