Saunders Seen As Key Man in Pfizer-Allergan Mashup

Saunders Seen As Key Man in Pfizer-Allergan Mashup
Last week, Pfizer and Allergan executives gave us a lot to chew on over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The $160 billion combination will create the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, a behemoth comprising at least one element – Allergan – that has had a significant interest in ophthalmology.

Allergan – the new Allergan that emerged from the acquisition by Actavis – became one of the ophthalmology sector’s more acquisitive buyers.

CEO Brent Saunders, speaking at OIS@AAO last month, revealed just how much importance he places on the adoption of innovative ideas. He shared a story about the early role he himself played in Allergan’s acquisition of Oculeve, the start-up with a neurostimulation device to treat dry eye. (See our interview with Saunders at OIS to hear the account.)

OIS Podcast this week spoke with several leaders in the ophthalmology sector, asking them what they see as a likely outcome of the deal.

Overall, those interviewed say they’re optimistic. The idea of having such a powerhouse with an active portfolio in ophthalmology could bring a considerable amount of resources to eye care.

But a clear cause of the optimism is Saunders. As COO and president, he will be playing a significant role in the new company. Those we interviewed say they trust Saunders to ensure that ophthalmology plays a significant role in the company going forward. Liav Abraham, senior analyst at Citi, wrote in a note on the deal, “The role of AGN’s CEO, Brent Saunders, as COO of the new PFE/AGN with responsibility for the combined commercial, manufacturing and strategic operations of the combined entity, also suggests continued commitment to the commercial and innovative potential of the eye care division.”

Saunders, in fact, issued a statement last week to our Eye on Innovation newsletter. It came too late to include in last week’s edition (though it is on the OIS.NET website), so we’ll present it again:

“The combination of Pfizer and Allergan will create a new biopharmaceutical leader with leading therapeutic categories, including eye care. At Allergan, we are a market leader in eye care, with an enviable portfolio of differentiated products and pipeline programs, including in dry eye disease, glaucoma, and AMD, and are committed to advancing innovation for eye care professionals and the patients they treat. By combining with Pfizer, we will have an even greater impact on the eye care community, by expanding our product offering into more markets globally and having enhanced resources to discover and develop new treatments for eye care professionals.”

Short term, Allergan will likely slow down or halt any business development activities. But the long-term prospects remain bright. One particularly interesting possibility centers around the apparently inevitable split of the new Pfizer into two entities.

This notion has been discussed for several years and Pfizer executives say the Allergan merger would put off any split by three or four years.

If and when the company is split, one entity could focus on more established products while the other could be more R&D focused, Abraham said in an interview with OIS. It will be interesting to see how prominent a role ophthalmology plays in one or both of the new entities.