Deal-Hungry Pfizer Won't Stop With Hospira; Who Could Be Next?

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Pfizer finally got its sweet deal!

After being spurned repeatedly by British drugmaker AstraZeneca , Pfizer recently anted up $17 billion for a much smaller drug company, Hospira . The deal represents a hefty 39% premium over the Illinois-based company's previous day close, but Pfizer's investors immediately applauded, tacking $6 billion onto Pfizer's market value the day after the deal was announced.

While the acquisition surprised almost everyone, I think it's a savvy move. Hospira will allow Pfizer to beef up its established products business, which has been on a downward trajectory, declining 9% year over year last year to $25 billion. The Hospira acquisition should boost that unit by $4 billion , making it the largest one by revenue, which could position it for a possible spinoff.

With Hospira, Pfizer is also tapping into biosimilars -- one of the most exciting new markets for drugmakers in the U.S. Biosimilars are lower-price knockoffs of costly biologic drugs that have been immune from competition in the United States.

All that could be changing. Biosimilars have long been available in Europe, and the FDA is on the cusp of approving them in the United States. Recently, an advisory panel to the FDA recommended approval of a biosimilar of the blockbuster Amgen drug Neupogen. If the agency gives the drug the go-ahead, it will be the first biosimilar in the U.S. and will pave the way for more of these drugs to enter the marketplace.

Hospira is already one of the largest providers of biosimilars in Europe. According to the The Wall Street Journal , adding Hospira's ready-made lineup of biosimilars to its pipeline should transform Pfizer into a leading player in biosimilars. We're not talking chickenfeed. The global market for biosimilars could soar to $20 billion in annual sales in five years.

Pfizer's CEO Ian Read is known for being a big thinker, and let's face it -- amid the recent spate of Big Pharma megadeals, $17 billion looks like chump change. The logic goes that if Pfizer was willing to shell out $120 billion for AstraZeneca last spring, then it has plenty left, and Read isn't going to sit around and wait. "You don't go from potentially paying $120 billion for a major deal to something that's basically an hors d'oeuvre," said John Boris, of SunTrust Banks. "M&A will continue to be dominant."

For his part, Pfizer's CEO has said he's " aggressively looking at all alternatives," and analysts are bandying about a list of possible targets. So, who could be next on Pfizer's shopping list?

Tax inversion deals are still on the table for Pfizer

Two things motivated Pfizer's failed pursuit of AstraZeneca: (1) a non-U.S. address that could reduce its taxes, and (2) a way to get into the uberhot world of cancer immunotherapies. Pfizer made some progress with the latter through its $2.9 billion deal with Merck signed in November. But it is still pinned down with a U.S. tax bill.

A White House crackdown in the autumn thwarted several pending transactions and has made tax-saving moves called inversions more difficult and less lucrative. Still, despite Capitol Hill's attempt to discourage tax inversions -- like the one Pfizer attempted by making a bid for AstraZeneca -- Pfizer's CEO Ian Read has said he's not deterred.

During the Q4 earnings call with analysts, Read pointed out that the inversion payoff would be less immediate under Treasury's new limits on their tax benefits. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth the effort. "If we believe the value is still there and we believe, under our interpretation of these rules, there is still value, I see no reason why we wouldn't be able to do an inversion," Read told Bloomberg in an interview.

Recently, high profile Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson said that Pfizer execs told him the company needs an inversion deal to compete on equal footing with overseas companies, both for tax-rate purposes and for access to overseas cash. That's why analysts figure it could make a run at fellow Big Pharma GlaxoSmithKline . Glaxo's size might allow Read to make the tax inversion move he intended with AstraZeneca. The two companies' businesses would also have revenue and cost synergies.

A Pfizer/Glaxo merger would also create a "genuinely world class" vaccines operation, according to Berenberg's Alistair Campbell. Glaxo's slate of childhood and adult vaccines could be added to Pfizer's Prevnar franchise, and the size of the deal would cement Pfizer's spot as the top Big Pharma -- an honor it lost after its best-selling drug Lipitor went off patent.

Actavis , a Dublin, Ireland-headquartered company, is another possibility, if it stops expanding. Actavis was in talks with Pfizer back in September, but its price tag got a lot steeper when it agreed to swallow Allergan last November for $66 billion. A takeover by Pfizer could be big enough to overcome the U.S. Treasury's stricter rules on inversions and lower Pfizer's tax bill, which currently stands at 27%, according to Kevin Kedra, an analyst at Gabelli & Co.

Deals tied to spinoff possibilities

Probably one of the more likely possibilities is Mylan . As Pfizer's established product unit, Mylan could beef up Pfizer's established products division for sale or spinoff, much the way the Hospira deal will.

Mylan and Pfizer already have a relationship on projects including EpiPen, but the tax implications would be harder to navigate. The Pennsylvania drugmaker is attempting to lower its own tax bill by buying part of Abbott Laboratories ' generic-drugs business, as well as shifting its legal address to the Netherlands. Research firm Jefferies believes Mylan could become an attractive takeover target for Pfizer, once that deal closes.

AbbVie and Bristol-Myers Squibb are on the radar as well, according to analysts. Bristol-Myers would help Pfizer juice up its oncology offerings, which could eventually be another divestment option. By contrast, AbbVie's strongest product is rheumatoid arthritis medication Humira, but Humira goes off patent in the U.S. next year, and its other offerings, even the newly approved Viekira Pak for hepatitis C can't be expected to make up the $10.6 billion Humira earns.

Pfizer has been very eager to power up its generics business, which is why Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals was approached by Pfizer about a possible merger, according to Biospace . But Teva stiff-armed Pfizer immediately, and that bid was rejected. By contrast, Hospira's Board of Directors has already signed off on the Pfizer deal. The merger is slated to close in the second half of 2015, subject to regulatory approval and a shareholder vote.

Meanwhile, Pfizer, which still has a stack of cash, a stable of rapidly aging drugs, and a history of using deals to strip out costs and shore up revenue, is surely already eyeing its next target.

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The article Deal-Hungry Pfizer Won't Stop With Hospira; Who Could Be Next? originally appeared on

Cheryl Swanson owns shares of Actavis. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

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