Deals

Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering deals. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.

Pascal Soriot sure is working hard to make sure AstraZeneca shareholders don't regret his snubbing a $117 billion takeover offer from Pfizer last year.

In just two days, the AstraZeneca CEO has announced three transactions: a $4 billion purchase of a stake in Acerta Pharma, maker of an experimental cancer treatment; a $575 million acquisition of a respiratory business from Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical; and an alliance with China's WuXi AppTec to investigate biological medicines. For the year as a whole, AstraZeneca has spent roughly $8 billion on deals.

Pharma's Hunt for Growth
In a blockbuster year for big pharmaceutical mergers, AstraZeneca scours for blockbuster drugs.
Source: Bloomberg
Data include pending and completed pharmaceutical and biotechnology acquisitions globally.

For an $84 billion drugmaker, $8 billion might not seem like much money, especially as some of its rivals spend double or triple that on a single purchase. Pfizer and Allergan are pursuing an all-stock merger worth $160 billion. And the industry has spent a record $429 billion on acquisitions this year, roughly the combined total for 2012 through 2014. 

But AstraZeneca is somewhat unique because while much of the pharmaceutical industry is focused on instantaneous growth and -- in the case of American companies -- a way to lower taxes, London-based AstraZeneca has a longer time horizon. And that's both good and bad for the company.

Mediocre Performance
AstraZeneca's London-listed shares are up about 5 percent since Pfizer gave up on a takeover. That trails the average 12 percent gain for a basket of 20 large pharma stocks tracked by Bloomberg Intelligence.
Source: Bloomberg

If its small deal bets and internal research and development pan out by producing a couple of successful therapies that have exclusivity for considerable time, spurning Pfizer would have been worth it. But if the growth isn't that impressive, shareholders could revolt. 

Based on revenue estimates compiled by Bloomberg, AstraZeneca's growth will fall short of the industry average over the next three years. After that, though, sales should rebound. But again, it's hard to guess what its pipeline will ultimately yield.

Sales May Bounce
Analysts see AstraZeneca's revenue declining this year through 2017, and then growing again for at least the subsequent four years. But this all depends on what the company's pipeline produces.
Source: Analysts' estimates compiled by Bloomberg

In announcing the Acerta transaction, Soriot said it completes the "four main pillars" of AstraZeneca's oncology strategy, citing ovarian, lung, hematology and breast cancers as primary areas of focus. AstraZeneca also closed Thursday on its $2.7 billion purchase of ZS Pharma, grabbing hold of a medicine for a deadly blood condition that could be a potential blockbuster, with sales in excess of $1 billion. The drug has passed all three clinical testing stages, but still needs Food and Drug Administration approval before it can begin selling in the U.S.

AstraZeneca also purchased rights earlier in the year to an experimental cancer vaccine developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals and which is being tested for cervical and head-and-neck cancers. And it's struck other deals, too. 

The eventual outcome of AstraZeneca's numerous acquisitions of new drugs will be interesting alongside the mega-deals being done by competitors. Could it be Pfizer in the end that regrets not making a harder push to buy AstraZeneca?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tara Lachapelle in New York at tlachapelle@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at bewilliams@bloomberg.net