CSL pays $11.7bn for new blood

The biggest biopharma deal of the year is also the biggest the Australian group has ever done.

With two billion-dollar deals in as many days, the biopharma M&A market has shifted markedly this week. Today’s tie-up, which will see CSL pay $11.7bn for beleaguered kidney disease specialist Vifor, is a play to diversify away from blood products.

The deal is the biggest in CSL’s history, and by a comfortable margin. But it is another step along the path signalled by the haemophilia gene therapy deal it signed with Uniqure last year. CSL is clearly looking beyond its core business, which suffered during the pandemic as lockdowns disrupted plasma collection.

CSL is split into two main operating divisions. These are Seqirus, a vaccines business focused on seasonal influenza  and CSL Behring, which makes blood-based products such as immunoglobulins, albumin and haemophilia replacement factors.

CSL's business units
  2020 sales ($bn) Forecast 2026 sales ($bn) CAGR
CSL Behring
Immuno-globulins (Privigen and Hizentra) 4.2 8.0 11%
Blood factors (Kcentra, Idelvion, Humate P) 1.8 2.2 3%
Vaccines (mostly for flu, Fluad, Flucelvax) 1.6 2.1 4%
Plasma expanders (Human albumin) 1.1 1.7 8%
HAE franchise (Haegarda, Berinert P) 0.6 0.8 4%
Seqirus
Vaccines (mostly for flu, Fluad, Flucelvax) 1.6 2.1 4%
CSL total, incl others 9.5 15.0 8%
Source: Evaluate Pharma. 

The majority of Vifor’s revenues, now and forecast, are from anti-anaemics, iron deficiency, nephrology and cardio-renal therapies. It thus has little in common with CSL, which means the transaction might escape the tender mercies of the FTC, a concern with yesterday’s deal between Pfizer and Arena (Pfizer starts to put its vaccine cash to use, December 13, 2021).

CSL is funding the Vifor deal through a A$6.3bn ($4.5bn) equity raise, A$8.4bn of debt and existing cash. And, as with Pfizer and Arena, the deal comes at a chunky premium. The SFr167 ($181) per share offer is 61% higher than Vifor Pharma’s closing share price on December 1, before rumours of the bid began to swirl. 

Cheap

Reportedly the negotiations started in March, suggesting the bid is not a completely opportunistic move prompted by Vifor’s recent travails, which left the Swiss group’s stock at its lowest point in just over a year.

True, the recent setbacks were for ANG-3777, a project to which Vifor had rights, rather than one of its in-house assets. But then most of Vifor’s assets are partnered or in-licensed, which could complicate things for CSL.

One such is Akebia’s anaemia agent vadadustat, whose approval looks dicey in light of the FDA’s rejection of Fibrogen’s similar pill roxadustat – though there does remain a chance that vada gets approved for use by dialysis patients. This would be a new market for Vifor, but a small one. 

On the positive side of the ledger Vifor does have two other medicines geared up for launch. 

Korsuva, an injected therapy for pruritus in dialysis patients, is approved in the US and could launch in the middle of next year. Vifor has a 50% US profit share with the drug’s originator, Cara Therapeutics. And Tavneos, a therapy for a form of vasculitis, was approved in September in Japan, where it will be sold by Vifor’s partner Kissei.

This could mean easy revenue streams for CSL, though it might take time to iron out the details of Vifor’s many partnerships and other agreements. 

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