Sweet on Sobi?

Not-so-mystery bidder Pfizer expresses interest in acquiring Swedish rare-disease company

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden—Somewhere around the fourth week of April, rumors started to swirl that Swedish biopharmaceutical company Swedish Orphan Biovitrum AB, better known as Sobi, was going to be acquired. In response to those rumors, Sobi was a bit cagey—it didn’t deny that someone had come around courting it, but neither did it do much to clear up mysteries.
In fact, Sobi’s only response to the scuttlebutt going around was to release a statement that said: “The board of Swedish Orphan Biovitrum AB notes the recent speculation in the press and elsewhere regarding a potential acquisition of the company. The board confirms that it has received a preliminary and conditional non-binding proposal in relation to a possible offer for all shares issued by the company. There can be no certainty that an offer will be made, nor as to the terms of any such offer. A further announcement will be made when appropriate.”
However, as is so often the case, whether because of loose lips or a deliberate plan to quietly leak information to the press, someone talked on condition of anonymity, and Reuters news service broke the news April 30 that Pfizer Inc. was the mystery suitor crooning outside Sobi’s window. Pfizer’s was already a name being bandied about in the rumors, along with Biogen Inc., given that both of them have ongoing development deals with Sobi.
There have been no details about how big the offer is or anything else, but here are some of the things that Reuters and other market-watchers have pointed out:
  • It was just a few days before Reuters broke the Pfizer-Sobi news that Pfizer CEO Ian Read had said during an earnings call that he was open to deals and was “agnostic” about the size of acquisitions.
  • Sobi manufacturers a hemophilia treatment called ReFactor AF, which Pfizer sells.
  • Pfizer has been on the lookout for companies to acquire ever since it failed to take over AstraZeneca with its $119-billion bid last year.
  • Pfizer has established a Rare Disease Research Unit because it sees therapies for rare diseases, the kinds of drugs that can command very high prices, as a key business opportunity—and Sobi is, of course, an integrated biopharmaceutical company focused on bringing innovative therapies and services to improve the lives of rare disease patients.
Rumors about Sobi and potential suitors aren’t new; Bloomberg reported in April (having been one of the first to break the news of any takeover talks at all going on) that the Swedish company “has held on-and-off-again talks with potential buyers since last year as its stock trades at an all-time high.”
And aside from Sobi, rare diseases have been an area of fast-growing interest among the Big Pharma companies. Some other deals recently in that rare disease realm are Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Inc. acquiring Auspex Pharmaceuticals for $3.5 billion in March, Shire plc nabbing NPS Pharmaceuticals for $5.2 billion in January and BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. buying Prosensa Holding NV for $840 million in November 2014. Also, the deal covered in our June 2015 issue cover article, titled “Rallying around rare diseases.”
Sobi is an international specialty healthcare company dedicated to rare diseases. The product portfolio is primarily focused on hemophilia, inflammation and genetic diseases. The company notes that it also markets a portfolio of specialty and rare disease products for partner companies across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Russia, and describes itself as “a pioneer in biotechnology with world-class capabilities in protein biochemistry and biologics manufacturing.” In 2014, Sobi had total revenues of about $380 million and employed approximately 600 people.
Core products for Sobi include Kineret within the inflammation therapeutic area and Orfadin, Ammonaps and Ammonul within the genetics and metabolic therapeutic area. Kineret and Orfadin are Sobi’s two largest products in terms of revenue; according to the company’s website, in 2012 these two products accounted for close to 40 percent of the company’s total revenues and approximately 90 percent of total revenues for core products.
Partnered products comprise about 40 products that are commercialized on behalf of specialty and rare disease partner companies. Key therapeutic areas here include hematology, oncology and emergency medicines. Revenues for partnered products are mainly focused on the Nordic region, where Sobi says it is the market leader.

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