Drugmakers have spent a record $342 billion on M&A in 2019

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A string of multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical deals announced this week call attention to a record-setting year in which drugmakers and biotechs have spent $342 billion snapping up smaller companies to bolster their pipelines.

Merck MRK, -0.15%  said Monday it is spending $2.7 billion to buy ArQule ARQL, +103.88%, a biopharma developing cancer therapies that use the Bruton’s Tyrosine Kinase inhibitor. Sanofi SNY, -1.59%, now under the leadership of former Novartis executive Paul Hudson, just announced plans to acquire Synthorx THOR, +170.52%, another clinical-stage company developing cancer treatments, for $2.5 billion.

Meanwhile, XBiotech XBIT, +75.36%  sold Bermekimab, an experimental dermatology treatment, to Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.09%  for $750 million upfront and $600 million in potential milestones, it announced late last week. On Friday, Astellas Pharma 4503, -0.24%  scooped up gene therapy developer Audentes Therapeutics BOLD, +0.12%  for $3 billion.

Read: Novartis is buying The Medicines Company for $9.7 billion

While the number of U.S. pharmaceutical and biotechnology deals has increased year over year, from 365 in 2018 to 484 so far this year, it’s the size of 2019’s mergers and acquisitions that’s notable, according to data provided by Dealogic.

This year’s $342 billion in M&A activity far surpasses any other year since 1995 when Dealogic began tracking deals. Big-dollar deals like AbbVie’s ABBV, -0.62%  pending $63 billion buyout of Allergan AGN, -0.59% and Amgen’s AMGN, -0.41%  $13.4 billion purchase of a single drug, US:CELG  Otezla, are driving the 2019 tally.

Last year, companies spent only $97 billion on M&A, which is far lower than the previous buying record of $215 billion in 2016. That year, Shire (now Takeda 4502, -0.32% ) spent $32 billion on Baxalta and Pfizer PFE, +0.08%  bought Medivation for $14 billion.

Don’t miss: Sanofi to acquire Synthorx for $2.5 billion

The uptick in deals underscores a broader trend in the industry, one in which large, legacy drugmakers are buying their pipelines rather than developing new therapies from scratch. In many cases, this kind of deal making has paid off. Keytruda, which was acquired through Merck’s $41 billion acquisition of Schering-Plough in 2009, has generated $103 billion in revenue since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, according to EvaluatePharma.

The cumulative deal value for a combination deal versus a bolt-on deal has changed significantly over the last five years, according to an Evercore analysis. Bolt-on deals, like the Otezla acquisition, tally $56 billion so far in 2019, compared with the previous five-year average of $46 billion. The total value of “combination” deals, like the behemoth AbbVie-Allergan tie-up, has reached $137 billion year-to-date, compared with $81 billion, the previous five-year average.

See also: AbbVie’s Allergan acquisition sowed doubts on Wall Street but some analysts are coming around

“2019 represents a high-tide mark,” when it comes to biopharma M&A, Evercore ISI analysts wrote on Monday.

Globally, deal count and dollar amount have also increased year over year, but it’s a far less dramatic jump than what’s been going on in the U.S. market, Dealogic data found. There have been 1,276 deals totaling $411 billion so far in 2019, up from 1,230 deals totaling $298 billion in 2018.

Investors are largely happy with the deals. In afternoon trading on Monday, the volatile shares of ArQule gained 100%, Synthorx was up 170% and XBiotech’s stock jumped 73%. Audentes’ stock was flat Monday.

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