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COVID-19’s Impact on Biopharma Mergers & Acquisitions in 2020

Most reports indicate that 2020 was not a particularly good year for mergers and acquisitions (M&As) in the biopharma industry.  There’s also some disagreement on numbers which can be related to how they are defining sectors; healthcare versus biotech and pharmaceutical, for example.  Here’s a deeper dive into how the COVID-19 Pandemic had a major dampening effect on deal-making in 2020.


According to Express Pharma, the healthcare industry had 103 deals in December 2020 worth $55.3 billion. This is actually significantly higher than the 12-month average from December 2019 to November 2020 of 83 deals worth $13.5 billion.

Breaking that down, most of that is tied to AstraZeneca’s acquisition of Alexion Pharmaceuticals for $39 billion, which accounted for 70.5% of the total deal value in December 2020. Other deals in the same period were EQT IX Fund buying Recipharm AB, a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) for about $2.1 billion; Les Laboratoires Servier SAS acquiring the oncology portfolio of Agios Pharmaceuticals for $2 billion; and Gilead Sciences takeover of MYR GmbH for $1.7 billion. Also that month, Boehringer Ingelheim acquired NBE-Therapeutics for $1.428 billion.

The Express Pharma report also looked at venture capital investments, with 112 VC deals in December 2020 compared to 121 from December 2019 to November 2020. The December total was $3.8 billion compared to the 12-month average of $3 billion.

The most notable for December was a $200 million investment in Tempus Labs by Baillie Gifford & Co., Franklin Templeton Investments, Novo Holdings and T Rowe Price Associates. That was followed by Matrix Partners China, RTW Investments, Beijing Konruns Pharmaceutical, C-Bridge Capital Partners, HBM Healthcare Investments and GT Fund investing $181 million in China’s Nuance Biotech. Other December VC investments were $131.2 million in Cullinan Oncology, $115 million in Neurogene, and $109 million in Neomorph.

Express Pharma’s source was GlobalData.

Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences:

PwC has a slightly different outlook and breakdown. They project 2021 will be more of a return to normal in the pharma and life sciences sector with $250 billion to $275 billion in deal activity. They found 2020 to be slow, particularly compared to 2019, largely because there were few major “transformative” deals, but also because of COVID-19, which delayed a lot of deals earlier in the pandemic. They found there to be about $150 billion in deals for the sector, one of the lowest years in more than a decade.

The biggest deal in their analysis was Gilead’s acquisition of Immunomedics in September 2020 for $20.9 billion. Gilead picked up Immunomedics’ breast cancer drug Trodelvy in the deal, which is to be the cornerstone of Gilead’s cancer business. The drug is a first-in-class Trop-2 directed antibody-drug conjugate (ADC).

Daniel O’Day, chairman and chief executive officer of Gilead, said in a statement at the time, “This acquisition represents significant progress in Gilead’s work to build a strong and diverse oncology portfolio. Trodelvy is an approved, transformational medicine for a form of cancer that is particularly challenging to treat.”

PwC’s second notable deal is in the medical devices sector, with Siemens Healthineers acquiring Varian Medical Systems for $17.2 billion.

The rest of the top deals are in the biopharma sector—PwC breaks out pharma and biotech separately, an increasingly complicated distinction. The third largest deal was Bristol Myers Squibb’s $13.1 billion takeout of MyoKardia in October. As part of the deal, Bristol Myers Squibb picked up MyoKardia’s mavacamten, a possible first-in-class cardiovascular drug for obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is a chronic heart disease with high morbidity and impact on patients’ health. They expect to submit a New Drug Application (NDA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the first quarter of 2021. MyoKardia’s pipeline also includes two clinical-stage compounds, danicamtiv and MYK-224. Danicamtiv is being developed for systolic heart failure and MYK-224 for HCM.

The remaining deals in their top 10 include:

• Illumina’s $8.0 billion acquisition of Grail in September 2020.

• Johnson & Johnson’s $6.4 million buyout of Momenta Pharmaceuticals in August 2020.

• Gilead Sciences’ $5.0 billion purchase of Forty Seven in March 2020.

• Bayer AG’s acquisition of Asklepios BioPharmaceutical in October 2020 for $4.0 billion.

• Sanofi’s $3.7 takeout of Principia Biopharma in August.

• Merck’s acquisition of VelosBio in November for $2.8 billion.

• Oscar A-Co KK (Blackstone Group’s) $2.3 billion buy of Takeda’s Japanese Consumer Healthcare Business in August 2020.

Overall, PwC reported 242 deals in the Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences sector for 2020 for a value of $141 billion.


Published: Jan 07, 2021 By Mark Terry