Small drug companies (those with annual revenues of less than $500 million) now account for more than 70 percent of the nearly 3,000 drugs in phase III clinical trials. They are also responsible for a growing share of drugs already on the market: Since 2009, about one-third of the new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been developed by pharmaceutical firms with annual revenues of less than $100 million. Large drug companies (those with annual revenues of $1 billion or more) still account for more than half of new drugs approved since 2009 and an even greater share of revenues, but they have only initiated about 20 percent of drugs currently in phase III clinical trials.
For a large drug company, one option for increasing the number of drugs it expects to introduce is to acquire a smaller firm that is developing new drugs. Over the past three decades, about one-fifth of drugs in development—or the companies developing them—have been acquired by another pharmaceutical company.
When a large company acquires a small drug company or the rights to one of its drugs, it can use its specialized knowledge to increase the value of its acquisition or to diversify its risk of a decline in revenues (from a drug’s loss of patent protection, for instance). In making that acquisition, a large company might bring a drug to market more quickly than the small company could have or might distribute it more widely. With the rise of generic drugs, the loss in sales revenues that occurs when a drug’s patent expires can leave firms with excess capacity in production. Acquiring a smaller company can help quickly fill that capacity.
The acquisition of a small company by a larger one can create efficiencies that might increase the combined value of the firms by allowing drug companies of different sizes—in terms of the number of researchers, administrative employees, and financial and physical assets—to specialize in activities in which they have a comparative advantage. Small companies—with relatively fewer administrative staff, less expertise in conducting clinical trials, and less physical and financial capital to manage—can concentrate primarily on research. For their part, large drug companies are much better capitalized and can more easily finance and manage clinical trials. They also have readier access to markets through established drug distribution networks and relationships with buyers.
Researchers have found some evidence that such acquisitions by larger drug firms are sometimes motivated by large firms’ desire to limit competition. According to a recent study of acquisitions in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, a company was about 5 percent to 7 percent less likely to complete the development of drugs in its acquired company’s pipeline if those drugs would compete with the acquirer’s existing drugs than it would be otherwise. In a 2017 study of competition and research and development (R&D), the Government Accountability Office cited several retrospective studies of mergers in the drug industry that found such transactions reduced R&D spending and patenting for several years. The reverse was also true: Increases in pharmaceutical industry competition have been found to increase firms’ R&D spending.
Continue at: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/57126
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