If the pace of recent drugmaker mergers seems a migraine-inducing blur, that's because it is. Pharma deals in the first quarter of 2009 were worth nearly 50% more than all the industry deals announced in 2008, according to a new report.The study comes on the heels of today's announcement by GlaxoSmithKline ( GSK) that it will acquire privately held U.S. skincare products maker Stiefel Laboratories for $2.9 million. The report, from The Mergermarket Group of New York and London, says deals in the quarter carried a combined value of $166 billion -- more than 10 times that of deals announced in last year's first quarter and well over the $114 billion in deals announced in all of 2008. Roche bought the 44% of Genentech ( DNA) it didn't already own for $47 billion. Pfizer ( PFE) is buying Wyeth for $64 billion and Merck ( MRK) is buying Schering-Plough ( SGP) for $43 billion. The deals seem evidence that despite the downturn big pharma still boasts the big cash flow to make major moves. In the case of Merck, the reason for the Schering-Plough merger was clear: There is simply no projected earnings growth for Merck by analysts over the next few years thanks to patent expirations and a dearth of pipeline drugs, Brian Gilmartin said in a recent note to investors on RealMoney.com. But more megdeals are not on the horizon, according to the report. Instead, expect to see more "mid-market transactions" and deals valued below $5 billion. Glaxo and some other major drugmakers, including Sanofi-Aventis ( SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY), have recently been telling investors and analysts that they prefer to make smaller, targeted acquisitions that fit with their particular growth strategies. The report also predicts that mergers and acquisitions will grow in the next few quarters in the stem-cell arena, following President Obama's executive order allowing use of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Venture capitalists and large drugmakers seeking to boost their stem-cell research capabilities are likely to invest in the field, according to the report. One potential target for big drugmakers is International Stem Cells, which is currently performing early-stage testing of treatments using stem cells. The Associated Press contributed to this report.