Allergan CEO Brent Saunders was one of the big pharma chiefs slamming the order.
Photograph by CNBC NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
By Sy Mukherjee
December 21, 2016

Allergan (agn) chief Brent Saunders has had a pretty remarkable career trajectory. He headed up Bausch & Lomb until the eye care specialist was snatched up by the (now-infamous) Valeant Pharmaceuticals (vrx); sat at the top perch of Forest Laboratories before becoming CEO of that company’s acquirer, Actavis, in 2014; and, finally, took over as the top dog at Allergan after Actavis bought it and adopted the Botox-maker’s name.

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But while Saunders’ resume may ultimately be defined by his role in several massive mergers, his reputation in biotech is rooted in a rock ’em, sock ’em approach to deal-making which has led to his reputation as one of the industry’s biggest boosters—especially in a year when biotech has been hopelessly floundering in the marketplace, with major sector indices plunging by 20%.

In his chief executive roles since taking the reins at Forest Labs, Saunders has struck a stunning 18 deals valued at nearly $13.5 billion (and that doesn’t even include licensing arrangements for experimental therapies and platforms). For some context: the largest biopharma deal to actually close this year was Shire’s $32 billion mega-merger with Baxter International spinoff Baxalta (the $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto marriage announced in September has yet to conclude).

Saunders’ targets have ranged from dermatology-focused companies that match up well with its Botox brand to riskier bets on firms making drugs for diseases with a dearth of available therapies, like the liver condition Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Despite the outsize numbers, Saunders’ decisions shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Bolt-on acquisitions have been a concerted effort on his part after the implosion of what would have been a historic $160 billion mega-merger between Allergan and Pfizer.

He’s also been leading an effort to convince drug makers to voluntarily back away from massive drug price hikes, promoting a “social contract” with patients and warning that lawmakers will take matters into their own hands if the practice proceeds unabated.

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