- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche agreed Thursday to pay $46.8 billlion in cash to buy the 44 percent of California-based biotech pioneer Genentech that it doesn’t already own, ending a long corporate struggle between the companies.

The deal, which values the whole of Genentech at more than $100 billion, underscores the lengths drugmakers are willing to go to shore up weak pipelines of new drugs. And investors and the industry will be watching to see if Roche can preserve the unique research culture that helped Genentech all but start the biotech industry.

The $95-per-share deal brings Roche, whose best-known products include the flu treatment Tamiflu and the tranquilizer Valium, all of the sales of Genentech’s highly profitable cancer drugs as well as its promising research pipeline and scientific corporate culture.

The deal, which is a tender offer approved by Genentech’s board, offers $95 per share for the 44 percent of South San Francisco, Calif.-based Genentech Inc. that Basel-based Roche Holding AG doesn’t already own. A majority of shares besides Roche’s still must be tendered for the deal to happen, with a deadline of March 25.

It is the latest in a burst of megadeals among drugmakers, following Merck & Co. Inc.’s announcement Monday that it would acquire Schering-Plough Corp. and Pfizer Inc.’s pending acquisition of Wyeth.



A dearth of new products and push for cost savings are driving the rush to combine. The deal values Genentech as a whole at $100.1 billion when including the portion of the company already owned by Roche. That nearly matches the $109.1 billion combined total for Merck’s and Pfizer’s acquisitions.

Roche expects to save $750 million to $850 million per year by eliminating duplication but has not yet given a figure for potential job cuts.

The agreement ends Roche’s hostile bid for Genentech. Genentech’s board rejected Roche’s initial friendly bid of $89 per share in July. Roche then surprised the company and Wall Street with a lowered $86.50-per-share bid on Jan. 30, aimed directly at shareholders.

The Swiss drugmaker then increased that bid to $93 per share last Friday. Roche recently said it raised $36 billion in financing and can obtain the rest through debt or with available cash.

Hanging over the negotiations have been study data expected to be released in April on the effectiveness of Genentech’s Avastin in treating early-stage colon cancer. The drug, Genentech’s best-selling product, is already approved for various types of breast, lung and colon cancers.

Avastin is one of the best-selling biotechnology drugs in the world. Like other biotech drugs, it is made using living cells. The process though is more complicated and often more costly than traditional chemical drugs, which makes biotech drugs more expensive. Avastin, for example, can cost about $50,000 per year.

With the government looking to help control prescription drug prices, consolidation could turn out to be a good thing for the industry, said Morningstar equity analyst Damien Conover. The move allows for sales force and other cuts, which could help maintain margins if drug prices decreased, he said.

“The other piece is if you are bigger you tend to have more negotiating power,” he added.

Roche said the combined company would be the seventh-largest U.S. pharmaceutical company in terms of market share and would generate about $17 billion in annual revenue with a payroll of around 17,500 employees in the U.S. pharmaceuticals business alone.

Genentech has about 95 percent participation in its employee stock program. Based on an analysis of recent regulatory filings, employees stand to reap more than $2 billion altogether from those options, with the top excutives included.

“Working together, we aim to close the transaction quickly, thus removing uncertainty for employees and allowing us to focus even more intently on innovation and long-term projects,” Roche Chairman Franz B. Humer said.

Roche said its Pharma commercial operations in the U.S. will move from Nutley, N.J., to Genentech’s site in South San Francisco, which will become headquarters of the company’s U.S. drug operations and operate under the Genentech name.

It said this would take advantage of “the strong brand value of Genentech in the U.S. market.”

Investors remained concerned over how the culture at Genentech, which is known for cutting-edge research and as a place where scientists can flourish. It is key component to the company’s success, several have said.

“This is where I see it as being a little negative,” Conover said, referring to the buyout. “A lot of scientists will stay because of funding with Roche, but a lot of entrepreneurial people may decide to move on.”

Roche said potential management changes are still under discussion, which leaves unanswered questions surrounding the future role of Genentech Chief Executive Arthur D. Levinson.

“He’s a very enthusiastic and excitable guy. To me, it would make a lot of sense to keep him there as a figurehead if you’re trying to maintain the culture,” Tanner said.

Levinson joined the company in 1980 as a senior scientist and worked his way up to CEO in 1995. In that role, he helped shift the company into a blockbuster drug powerhouse and one of the top producers of cancer treatments in the world.

The weak economy and consolidation within the sector, though, could stave off an exodus. Leerink Swann analyst Bill Tanner said it will be a matter of how well Roche maintains the environment.

“They may have some cover now that pharmaceutical companies are cutting back,” he said.

Research and early development will operate as an independent center within Roche from Genentech’s campus in South San Francisco, it said.

Roche shares closed 1.1 percent higher at 147.10 Swiss francs ($126.80) on the Zurich exchange. Genentech shares rose $1.75 to $93.92.

___

Associated Press Writer Alexander G. Higgins contributed to this story from Geneva.

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