For awhile Tuesday night, it seemed as if Gilead Sciences' (GILD - Get Report) first-quarter earnings conference call was going to end without an analyst asking some variation of the "Who are you going to buy and when?" question.
But then J.P. Morgan's Cory Kasimov stepped up. Kasimov, the sixth analyst in the question queue, asked Gilead CEO John Milligan about business development and whether the uncertainty over passage of U.S. tax reform was causing the biotech company to slow its M&A roll.
Thanks for the question, Cory. So first of all, with regard to Washington, I think that uncertainty in Washington seems to be the norm in my 27 years here. So I think, we've kind of learned to filter that out and focus on the things that are right for the company. There may be tax reform, there may be repatriation, but you can't count on it and you can't wait for it either. So we focused our efforts. I'll return to what you asked last, which is we really focus our efforts in broadening our team, adding some depth, both scientifically and with business development experience so that we, in fact, have much, much greater capacity to assess things and, in fact, fully engage with our teams assessing a number of different opportunities, which we think could play out over the coming year as we start to make progress in getting partnerships and potential acquisitions together. So we're going to just focus on what's right for Gilead, try to ignore the noise globally in terms of tax reform and deal with the best thing for the company and for the shareholders in the long term. And we really have a great team right now. [Emphasis added.]
Milligan has made similar statements in the past, so it's best not to get overly hopeful that any deal is imminent. Still, Milligan's comment hints at some urgency to get the Gilead M&A machine cranking up again.
Later on Tuesday's call, Cowen analyst Phil Nadeau asked Milligan to discuss Gilead's overall strategy. After mentioning Gilead's resurgent HIV business and the big R&D push into NASH -- both strong points for the company -- Milligan said this:
With regard to future legs of the stool, I think, it's pretty clear, we're looking for another avenue to increase our opportunity for revenue and also for helping patients with a considerable heft that we have. And clearly, we've been focusing on oncology with the question, is there an area where we can use our resources to accelerate products to market and build a meaningful franchise in oncology? And that was the hiring of Alessandro Riva. That was the foray we made with our business development people to broaden and then to look at other things that can build this. And so I feel very good that we've got a number of different ways to accelerate growth for the company in the future so that a decade from now, we're a very different company, having reinvented ourselves beyond antivirals into really a multi-therapeutic area company. [Emphasis added.]
Meantime, Gilead spent $565 million in the first quarter to repurchase its own stock. The company ended the quarter with $34 billion in cash at its disposal.
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