2022-01-11| M&A

GeneOnline’s Top 10 M&As of 2021

by GeneOnline
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As we start 2022, we decided to take a look back at some of the largest mergers and acquisitions in 2021. The last 12 months were relatively quiet for M&As; however, there were some very interesting deals. Here are the top 10 M&As that made it through 2021, controversy or no. 

1. Thermo Fisher Acquires PPD

By far, the largest acquisition of the year was Thermo Fisher buying PPD, Inc. for $17.4 billion, a 24% premium per share when the deal was announced. The acquisition was finalized in December. 

The North Carolina-based PPD was a contract research organization (CRO). They help companies manage clinical trials. Following this acquisition, Thermo immediately became a leading global CRO. Going forward, Thermo can offer services to companies from early discovery to managing clinical trials to drug manufacturing. 

2. Merck Bets Big on Acceleron’s Cardiovascular Drug

Merck strengthens its cardiovascular pipeline by acquiring Acceleron for $11.5 billion. The all-cash deal was one of the largest deals of the year, and a big bet from Merck since Acceleron’s lead compound has yet to enter phase 3 clinical trials.

Additionally, the deal was met with pushback from regulators. There were fears Merck would need to divest Adempas, its cardiovascular therapy, to satisfy regulatory agencies. Additionally, some investors challenged the acquisition hoping for a bigger deal. In the end, Merck prevailed and the acquisition of Acceleron closed in late November.

3. CSL Buys Vifor to Expand Beyond Its Plasma Collection Business 

As the second-largest deal of 2021, the Australian biopharma CSL bought Vifor Pharma for $11.7 billion. CSL paid a premium of around 60% as determined by the price per share from the day before the deal was announced. The deal aims to accelerate growth and diversify CSL’s pipeline.

With this deal, CSL added 10 commercial products to its pipeline including Ferinject, an iron supplement and anemia treatment, which earned almost $350 million in the first half of 2021. Additionally, the deal gives CSL a foothold in the kidney disease market.

4. Jazz Pharmaceuticals Enters Cannabinoid Prescription Medicine Market

Jazz Pharmaceutical strengthened its neuroscience pipeline by acquiring GW Pharmaceuticals for $7.6 billion in a cash and stock deal. Additionally, Jazz jumps into the high-growth market of cannabinoid-based prescription drugs.

By buying GW, Jazz avoids spending time and money developing a new pipeline. Instead, it immediately gets a seasoned drug development platform and a potential blockbuster drug.  GW had successfully developed and gained FDA approval for Epidiolex, a treatment for childhood-onset epilepsy, which saw impressive growth in 2020.

5. Baxter Aims to Accelerate Connected Healthcare by Acquiring Hillrom

In a bid to accelerate digitally-enabled connected care, and expand beyond the hospital, Baxter International bought Hillroom for $10.5 billion. Hillrom specializes in the development of connected and digital patient support systems. 

Although some analysts questioned the fit of the two companies, Baxter maintains that the deal will increase the footprint of Hillrom’s products, expand the products and services offered by Baxter, and allow Baxter to expand into digital and connected care solutions in the hospital, at home, and other care settings.

6. Sanofi Bolster mRNA and Immunotherapy Portfolio

Sanofi spent 2021 cementing its position in the mRNA market and expanding its portfolio of immunotherapies by buying companies. They acquired at least 6 companies this year. Two big trends in its acquisitions were mRNA and immunotherapy. 

By buying Translate Bio for $3.2 billion and Tidal Therapeutics for $470 million, Sanofi gained a strong footing in mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics. Additionally, Sanofi aimed to grow its immunotherapy pipeline and discovery platforms for a wide range of diseases. They acquired Kymab for $1.4 billion adding a novel treatment of immune-mediated and inflammatory diseases, Amunix for $1 billion to obtain a T-cell engager and several R&D platforms, Kadmon Holdings for $1.9 billion to add a novel small molecule inflammatory regulator, and Origimm for an undisclosed sum to add a novel vaccine-based immunotherapy to treat acne.

7. Novo Nordisk Bets on RNAi Therapeutics for Liver disease

The Danish multinational pharma Novo Nordisk made headlines after it acquired Dicerna Pharmaceuticals for $3.3 billion. That was almost 80% premium to Dicerna’s closing price before the deal was announced. The all-cash deal received U.S. antitrust approval in December 2021, and the deal closed on December 28th.  

The two companies began a collaboration in 2019 for the development of liver-related cardio-metabolic diseases. They used Dicerna’s GalXC technology to develop therapeutics RNA interference (RNAi)-based therapeutics. This technology selectively silences disease-driver genes in the liver. Their RNAi therapeutics selectively bind to receptors on liver cells.

With this acquisition, Novo Nordisk acquired 5 products in clinical trials, as well as two platforms for the development of RNAi-based therapeutics. Novo Nordisk leads to the forefront of gene silencing therapeutics.  

8. Illumina Acquires GRAIL, Angering EU Regulators 

Illumina made headlines by acquiring GRAIL for over $7 billion. The CA-based healthcare company, GRAIL, focuses on the early detection of cancer. They use next-generation sequencing to develop Galleri, a test that can detect over 50 types of cancer with a single blood draw. 

This acquisition makes Illumina the undisputed market leader in early cancer detection. However, the deal was met with pushback from regulatory agencies. Both the US and EU agencies have scrutinized the deal. Illumina completed the acquisition of GRAIL before receiving the green light from regulators. As they expect judgment in ongoing litigation, GRAIL is currently maintained as a separate entity until a decision is reached. 

9. Amgen Prepares for the Future by Going On a Shopping Spree

In 2021, Amgen decided to focus on future growth by inking several deals and acquiring several companies. It acquired Rodeo Therapeutics for $55 million in cash to add its inflammatory disease therapeutics to its pipeline. Additionally, it added two clinical trial stage therapeutics by acquiring Five Prime Therapeutics for $1.9 billion, and Teneobio in a $2.5 billion deal.

These deals are preparing Amgen for several of its patents to expire between 2021 and 2030. This includes their three blockbuster therapies, Otezla, Enbrel, and Prolia/Xgeva, which will face competition from generics starting in 2025.  

10. Pfizer Adds to Its Portfolio of Immune-Inflammatory Modulators

Pfizer closed the year by buying Arena Pharmaceuticals for $6.7 billion. The price represents a 100% premium on Arena’s last closing price. The deal helps Pfizer balance the loss of several JAK-related assets due to cardiac toxicities.

The deal centers around Etrasimod, a sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) receptor modulator for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and dermatological diseases. Additionally, Pfizer adds two other late clinical-stage therapies for cardiovascular diseases. 


Acquisitions are increasingly scrutinized by regulators, as takeovers may stifle competition and give bigger players a monopoly over the market. Investors too may not see a buyout as a beneficial way to use a company’s fortunes, as they may amount to nothing in the long run. Despite the risks, we can expect robust M&As in 2022 from companies seeking to diversify their portfolios, strengthen existing assets, or acquire more effective tools and techniques. 

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