• Deals announced range from pharma to biotech, medical devices
  • More deals likely to come as financing remains cheap

The $40 billion in new health-care deals announced Thursday shows there’s more to M&A than tax breaks.

Abbott Laboratories agreed to buy St. Jude Medical Inc., a maker of heart devices, for $25 billion, the company’s biggest ever acquisition. AbbVie Inc. agreed to buy closely held cancer drugmaker Stemcentrx for $5.8 billion. France’s Sanofi, in a bid to build up its pipeline of new treatments, made a $9.3 billion unsolicited offer for Medivation Inc.

A U.S. government crackdown on companies using overseas addresses to dodge taxes was supposed to put a damper on acquisitions this year. Tougher regulations killed Pfizer Inc.’s $160 billion combination with Allergan Plc --which would have marked the biggest health-care deal ever.

In all, about $144 billion in deals for biotechnology, health-care and pharmaceutical companies have been announced this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s up 27 percent from a year ago when the industry was on its way to a more than 12-year record for deals. The main motivation hasn’t changed; companies are facing competition and need new products to bolster sales.

The industry is consolidating to mitigate challenging times ahead, from pricing pressure to regulatory and antitrust scrutiny, Nigel Jones, co-head of health care at Linklaters lawfirm in London, said in an interview.

“We are likely see more M&A in health care this year as companies streamline their portfolios and seek to build up those areas of higher future growth,” Jones said.

Premium Prices

Premiums for health-care deals are holding steady. Almost 30 percent of deals this year are commanding premiums of 40 percent to 50 percent, the most common amount paid, according to the Bloomberg data. That’s in line with announced premiums this time last year.

Abbott’s cash-and-stock offer for St. Jude, valued at $85 a share, represents a 37 percent premium to Wednesday’s closing price. Sanofi’s $52.50-per-share bid is 50 percent above Medivation’s two-month average price. Bloomberg reports that Medivation was attracting offers and had snubbed an earlier Sanofi approach have driven shares up more than 20 percent in the last month.

To be sure, consolidation won’t be easy for the industry. Some of the best assets are attracting private equity bidders, creating competition for strategic buyers, said Linklaters’s Jones. On the regulatory front, drug companies have more than just tax legislation to worry about.

The U.S. Senate has demanded testimony from executives, including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.’s outgoing Chief Executive Officer Mike Pearson, about their role in rising drug prices.

‘More to Come’

After a slower start to the year in M&A, Thursday’s announced deals went beyond health care. Comcast Corp., the parent of Universal Pictures, agreed to buy DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. for $3.8 billion, in a deal that builds on the studio’s film and TV franchises.

There’s more to come, according to Tomasz Michalski, an economics professor at the HEC business school in Paris.

“Large M&A is likely to continue in the coming months, not only in health care but also in other sectors, as financing remains cheap and companies have loads of cash to put to use and expand their portfolios,” Michalski said.

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