AstraZeneca turns the tables as it acquires US pharmaceutical firm Alexion

AstraZeneca, the British pharma giant, was almost swallowed up by Pfizer a few years ago. Now it has struck a megadeal of its own. Matthew Partridge reports

Drug giant AstraZeneca’s shares “fell sharply” this week after it agreed to “the biggest deal in its history”, says Julia Kollewe in The Guardian. Investors are worried that the $39bn it is paying for US rare-diseases specialist Alexion is excessive, especially since it represents a 45% premium to Alexion’s pre-deal price. The deal, which involves both cash and shares, will force AstraZeneca to secure a $17.5bn bridging loan. AstraZeneca’s stock has had a tumultuous year. It surged to £96.39 in July when the group published promising interim results related to its coronavirus vaccine. However, it has since been hit by recent vaccine trial results suggesting its treatment could be less effective than its rivals’ drugs and doubts over whether the vaccine will be licensed in the US.

US biotech Alexion is an “unexpected target” for AstraZeneca, but could also be a “canny one”, says Lex in the Financial Times. While the British company is paying a 45% premium for a business that “does not obviously fit with its own portfolio”, the premium “is not high by biotech standards”. The additional debt “is likely to be paid off within three years, thanks to Alexion’s strong cash flow”. The deal brings around $500m of synergies and the technology developed by Alexion complements AstraZeneca’s skills, as it can be applied to more than rare diseases. Meanwhile, Alexion’s expertise in the “fast-growing” rare disease market could “increase the uptake of niche discoveries”.

A bidding war?

The fact that Alexion was trading at just ten times earnings means that even with the premium the deal looks “like a winner”, says Charley Grant in The Wall Street Journal. Still, AstraZeneca’s shareholders “shouldn’t count on that extra dividend boost just yet”, as there is “no shortage of large companies with long-term growth challenges but fat wallets”. As a result, there is a chance that AstraZeneca could end up being sucked into a bidding war, making the takeover much less attractive. CEO Pascal Soriot’s “megadeal” marks a “stunning turnaround” for a business that only six years ago “faced extinction” from a hostile takeover by Pfizer, says Jim Armitage in the Evening Standard. The deal would have “deprived the world of one of the two Covid-19 vaccines the predator and prey have now independently developed” and would also have “stolen from shareholders the 87% rise in AstraZeneca’s share price Soriot has overseen since”. So many UK firms have been “bought on the cheap by foreign predators”; we should welcome this “turning of the tables”. 

There could be a “wave of deal-making” in the sector next year, says Julia Bradshaw in The Daily Telegraph. Big pharma will be looking “to beef up its pipelines while borrowing remains cheap”; investors will be seeking the sort of “long-term, stable returns” its combination of yield and growth offers, which looks attractive compared with declining industries such as oil and tobacco.

Recommended

Will energy prices go down in 2023?
Personal finance

Will energy prices go down in 2023?

Wholesale gas prices are on a downward trajectory, but does this mean lower energy bills later this year?
27 Jan 2023
Best regular savings accounts – January 2023
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – January 2023

You can earn an attractive rate on the best regular savings accounts. We tell you the best on the market to take advantage of right now
27 Jan 2023
Equity release v downsizing – which is best?
Personal finance

Equity release v downsizing – which is best?

Equity release hit a record high in 2022. But is downsizing a better way to hold on to your money?
27 Jan 2023
Self-assessment tax returns: what you need to know about getting your tax bill right
Income tax

Self-assessment tax returns: what you need to know about getting your tax bill right

Understanding how self assessment works can help you ensure you pay the right amount of tax, as well as avoid penalties for missing the deadline.
27 Jan 2023

Most Popular

House prices could fall 30%. Should investors be worried about a repeat of 2008?
Investments

House prices could fall 30%. Should investors be worried about a repeat of 2008?

Some analysts are predicting that house prices could fall as much as 30%, which, when compared to the fact that prices have jumped 28% since April 201…
24 Jan 2023
Will energy prices go down in 2023?
Personal finance

Will energy prices go down in 2023?

Wholesale gas prices are on a downward trajectory, but does this mean lower energy bills later this year?
27 Jan 2023
Council tax increases 2023 – how much more will you pay?
Tax

Council tax increases 2023 – how much more will you pay?

Your council tax bill will go up in April - we reveal the councils that have confirmed what this year’s increase will be.
23 Jan 2023