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.