When Elan Corporation, plc (ADR) (NYSE:ELN) sold its stake in the blockbuster selling multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri to partner Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB) in early February, many investors at both companies were left questioning the deal and the motive.
Dublin, Ireland based Elan pocketed $3.25 billion in the sale (on which it will pay little tax) and also inked a royalty payment plan for future sales of the dynamic drug. The hefty payout resulted in a credit downgrade for drug behemoth Biogen, despite the fact it gained sole control over the effective MS treatment. It's yet to be seen who the clear winner is in this arrangement but Biogen obviously sees big things for Tysabri, which brought in some $1.6 billion in sales in 2012 alone.
Analysts and investors have been clamoring for news regarding what Elan intends to do with the hefty takings and now they have some answers. In addition to the $1 billion share buyback announced Feb. 22, the company intends to engage in “a number a strategic transactions” with a share of the proceeds, according to a statement. It will also refinance its $600 million in debt.
Elan CEO Kelly Martin said in a statement, “Understandably, many market participants are looking forward to further clarity around how we intend to deploy the significant upfront payment we will be receiving. We have been making significant progress in this regard and are prepared to move expeditiously, upon close, on the redeployment of capital.”
The share buyback may appease some investors who viewed the Tysabri deal with skepticism. So much so, they sent shares reeling the day the deal was announced it what was the stock’s biggest slide in seven months. At the time Elan said it would share some proceeds with shareholders, but didn’t go into detail.
London's Breenberg Bank analyst Adrian Howd told Bloomberg, “They’ve now put some numbers around that. And it looks as if the timing of the use of other proceeds, in term of investments in pipeline and new products, is more progressed than some had thought." Howd recommends buying Elan shares.
Elan has been cleaning house. The now stripped-down, streamlined company sold its Elan Drug Technologies unit to Alkermes in 2011. Last December, it spun off Prothena Corporation PLC (NASDAQ:PRTA), its early stage drug research company. Elan surmises the two separated companies will each be worth more apart than conjoined.
Prothena is focused on the discovery and development of antibodies to treat myriad diseases. More specifically it researches disease causing proteins. Potential therapies can be used to treat ailments such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Multiple Sclerosis. The company's aim is to apply its extensive expertise in generating novel antibodies and then work with strategic partners to eventually bring their findings to clinical trails.
Prothena CEO Dale Schenk said after the spin-off, but before the Tysabri sale, that the promise of Prothena’s drug pipeline “will be more visible to investors now that the company is out from under the umbrella of the Tysabri effort.” Who knew the hit drug was such a drag?
Elan's Future and Fate
No doubt some investors believed Elan would use the proceeds from the Biogen and Alkermes sale to fund research on its Alzheimer’s disease treatments. Elan is working with giants Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) on a drug for the dementia-like progressive ailment that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. In the U.S., the disease affects more than 5 million, or one in eight, a number that is expected to swell in the near future.