Global Dealmaking in a Global Indication: Oncology Partnering in 2022

By Dylan Kissane

The context for oncology dealmaking in 2022 is very different from just a few years ago. Up-front payments are down, overall deal values are down, and deal volumes are stable or slightly up. Dealmaking hasn’t slowed down, but the deals that are getting done are smaller. For Barbara Natke, VP of Business Development at AVEO Oncology, the current oncology licensing sector is a true buyer’s market.

Natke explains that the macroeconomic situation – particularly rising interest rates – means more oncology assets on the market than in recent years. For in-licensing companies, this means a lot more choice, while, conversely, out-licensors face a far more competitive space. Some biotech assets are being forced onto the market to raise cash in tough times. This is a boon for top pharma but puts pressure on biotechs to get deals done fast.

This is temporary for Bernd Muehlenweg, Senior VP of Strategic Initiatives at Evotec. He believes that oncology dealmaking is cyclical and that deal volumes will remain high even if values drop in the short term. He expects that oncology deals will trend toward novel approaches and early-stage assets. These early-stage target validation deals will become more common, as well as modality-agnostic platforms.

Faiçal Miyara, VP and Head of Global Partnering Oncology at Ipsen, was even more positive. He explained that the industry was only four deals shy of the record regarding the number of oncology deals for the year. The fact that many of these deals are early-stage or pre-commercial also means that pipelines will be filled well into the future at an essentially discounted price. Erin Denny, Head of Oncology Search & Evaluation at Amgen, concurred, noting that plenty of companies had planned to go it alone. Still, global market conditions mean that deals are being made instead.

The discussion turned from the macro deal landscape to the practicalities of dealmaking. The hybrid virtual/in-person dealmaking of the COVID-19 pandemic period is likely to remain popular, says Denny, though partnering conferences will be welcome outlets for making personal connections. Miyara agreed, adding that for at least the next couple of years, a hybrid partnering practice will be how deals are done in the industry.

Others on the panel were less confident that in-person partnering would regain popularity. Muehlenweg explained that Evotec had succeeded in doing many deals virtually and had cut their travel budgets significantly as a result. While admitting there is a need for human interaction, oncology deals can easily be done over video. He added that, for the upcoming 2023 JP Morgan event, the Evotec team will be just 30% of its pre-pandemic size.

Natke was bearish on JPM, noting that while it was nice to go and shake hands with partners, it remained a “huge hassle.” She questioned if there was enough value to justify the travel. Miyara pointed out a significant advantage to in-person events like JPM, most notably the chance to speak directly to C-level executives without multiple online meetings. Denny found herself on the fence, seeing clear arguments for why JPM and similar events might grow as dealmakers seek human contact or shrink as experienced dealmakers stick with an efficient hybrid model.