Big Pharma Invest Deeper into Cancer Treatment


In early December 2019, two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies announced multibillion-dollar deals aiming at bolstering their oncology pipeline.  

Merck & Co. Inc. is paying $2.5b to acquire ArQule, Incwhose lead investigational candidate is an oral Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor currently in a Phase II dose-expansion study for the treatment of B-cell malignancies. The transaction enhances Merck’s offerings of therapies that treat blood-related cancers. 

Sanofi announced it is acquiring Synthorx, Inc.  for $2.5b to boost Sanofi’s cancer and autoimmune program. Synthorx is in the early phase of patient testing in a range of cancers, both on its own and in combination with existing cancer immunotherapies.  

Earlier in the year of 2019:  

  •   Bristol-Myers Squibb closed its $74b acquisition of Celgene Corp., (whose key product is REVLIMID aimed to treat myelodysplastic syndrome, multiple myeloma, and mantle cell lymphoma); 
  •   Pfizer bought Array Biopharma  (small molecule medicines to treat cancer) for $10.6 b;  
  •   Eli Lilly acquired Loxo Oncology (focused on wide variety of cancers driven by a single, rare genetic mutationfor $8 b. 

The M&A activity reflects an intense motivation to develop and commercialize effective cancer treatments, employing new methods of action.  The $123 billion world-wide cancer-drugs market is expected to almost double by 2024 (Source: Evaluate Pharma). Big pharma prioritizes cancer drugs development to add new revenue sources to replace products losing patent protection. The FDA’s willingness to approve new cancer drugs with smaller, faster, less expensive clinical trials and scientific breakthroughs is also a key driver of market growth.