Reshaping of the Biotech M&A Landscape

By Louis Lehot, Eric Chow; While the road ahead might be unpredictable, the core dynamics of the life sciences sector and the coming expiry of patents worth over $100 billion are poised to drive a renaissance in biotech mergers and acquisitions.

Louis Lehot
5 min readSep 5, 2023
Image by Freepik

The biotechnology industry has always been marked by innovation, rapid technological advancements and a drive to prevent, treat and cure disease. The prospect of mergers, acquisitions and joint collaboration deals with larger pharmaceutical giants has always served as fuel for the aspirations of small and mid-sized biotechnology companies. So much so, that M&A (mergers and acquisitions) is deeply ingrained in the biotech industry’s landscape, and it has been a significant catalyst in driving innovation and growth.

Traditionally, M&A deals in biotech were centered around licensing agreements, where large pharmaceutical conglomerates would seek to build their pipeline of promising drug candidates in various stages of development and bring them to market with their large global sales forces. But today, the landscape has shifted to encompass a broader spectrum of strategies, such as acquiring advanced technologies, data analytics capabilities and innovative platforms that enable personalized medicine and more efficient drug discovery processes.

Although recent years have witnessed a perceptible inertia in M&A activity within the sector, a bright glimmer of change may be on the horizon. A convergence of factors is set to propel the biotech industry into a new era of M&A activity. Could 2024 be the year that finally reshapes the M&A narrative?

The Coming Patent Cliff

In the coming years, many of the blockbuster drugs that dominate treatment for widespread diseases will lose their coveted exclusivity, paving the way for fierce competition from generic and biosimilar alternatives. This heightened competition is a response to the industry’s pressing need for cost control. In the wake of this impending patent cliff, industry observers are predicting a surge in M&A and market consolidation.

Large pharmaceutical corporations are facing the challenge of maintaining consistent revenue streams. Will they look to shield themselves from the anticipated impact of generic and biosimilar competition, and will they turn to acquisitions as a strategic solution to confront the problem?

The link between patent cliffs and increased M&A activity is well-documented in the pharmaceutical industry. Academic research has repeatedly demonstrated that when pharmaceutical companies confront patent expirations, they tend to seek refuge in M&A deals. For example, AbbVie followed the lessons of the previous patent cliff by merging with Allergan in a 2019 deal.

“A significant number of blockbuster drugs are losing their exclusivity in the next five years, and we expect that generic and biosimilar competition will be particularly fierce and intense due to cost-containment pressures,” according to Fitch Solutions. “We expect M&A and market consolidation rates to increase in the short to medium term as pharmaceutical companies turn to acquisitions to maintain a constant revenue stream and protect against the upcoming patent cliff.”

Scientific Breakthroughs and Innovation

Recently, large corporations have turned their attention to burgeoning biotech enterprises to fuel their quest for innovation. These transactions are concentrated on domains such as cancer treatment, immune system disorders and rare diseases-areas witnessing remarkable victories in clinical trials, translating into substantial profits for approved treatments.

One of the key drivers behind the evolving M&A landscape in biotech is the continuous stream of scientific breakthroughs and technological advances. The convergence of fields such as genomics, artificial intelligence and precision medicine has led to the emergence of new therapeutic approaches and a deeper understanding of disease biology. Biotech companies are now seeking to capitalize on these advancements through strategic partnerships, collaborations and acquisitions.

For example, the growing emphasis on gene editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 has led to several high-profile acquisitions. Companies are vying to secure intellectual property, talent and platforms that enable them to harness the potential of gene editing for therapeutic applications. Similarly, advancements in data science and computational biology have prompted collaborations between biotech firms and technology companies as the industry recognizes the importance of data-driven decision-making in drug development.

Changing Market Dynamics

The evolving dynamics of the healthcare market are also influencing biotech M&A trends. The rise of orphan drugs, which target rare diseases, has created a niche market that can be highly lucrative. Consequently, many biotech companies seek to acquire or partner with firms with expertise in rare disease research and development. These targeted acquisitions allow companies to enter specialized markets and address unmet medical needs more effectively.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of vaccine development and infectious disease research. Biotech companies with capabilities in these areas have garnered increased attention from investors and potential acquirers. This shift in focus toward pandemic preparedness and vaccine technology is reshaping the priorities of biotech M&A activities.

The Watchful Eye of Venture Capitalists

Venture capital investors are watching these developments in the biotech M&A landscape closely due to the potential for significant returns on investment. As biotech companies expand their capabilities through strategic partnerships, venture capitalists recognize the opportunities for financial growth and industry disruption.

These investors are also becoming more selective, focusing on companies that offer innovative technologies and promising drug candidates and exhibit a strong management team and a clear strategic vision. Biotech startups that align with the changing dynamics of the industry are more likely to attract the attention of venture capitalists seeking to invest in the next wave of transformative healthcare solutions.

Yet, the path to these strategic acquisitions has not been without its costs. Premiums on biopharma acquisitions have often soared beyond 100%, partly driven by the significant funding biotech companies secured from public markets and private investors. These robust valuations dictated higher monetary offers from potential buyers. The results are high-end deals with staggering price tags. Yet, leading pharma corporations and private equity firms boast sizeable capital reserves awaiting deployment. With patents worth over $100 billion poised to expire by 2030, the imperative for a robust and sustainable pipeline is undeniable.

A Resurgence in M&A Activity

As scientific breakthroughs, changing market dynamics and the demand for personalized medicine reshape the sector, biotech companies are redefining how they approach mergers and acquisitions. Venture capital investors are carefully observing these trends, recognizing the potential for substantial returns on investments and the opportunity to support companies that will shape the future of healthcare. As the biotech landscape continues to evolve, the role of venture capital investors will remain crucial in supporting innovation and driving positive change in the industry.

Despite the uncertainties that linger, the industry-wide emphasis on cultivating strategic pipelines through external innovation-often facilitated by corporate venture investments-sets the stage for a resurgence in M&A activities.



Louis Lehot

Louis Lehot is a partner and business lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP, based in the firm’s Silicon Valley office. Follow on Twitter @lehotlouis