Valeant looking for a big acquisition to help it become global pharma company

MONTREAL – Specialty pharmaceutical company Valeant is counting on anti-aging treatments and other aspects of its esthetics business to help drive profits this year as it continues to seek out acquisitions in hopes of becoming a global giant, CEO Michael Pearson said Tuesday.

The Quebec company’s esthetic business, including lip fillers and laser devices to remove wrinkles and fat grew more than 30 per cent in both the United States and Canada last year, while the market itself is expanding in high single digits, if not higher.

“It’s not cheap to look beautiful,” Pearson said in an interview after the company announced its financial guidance for 2014, adding that anti-aging treatments can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

While these treatments are just starting in emerging markets, one of Valeant’s target areas, Pearson expects growth even there because “everyone likes to look good.”

Meanwhile, Valeant is looking to make another big acquisition, as big or bigger than its recent US$8.7-billion deal to buy eye-care company Bausch + Lomb, Pearson said.

The idea is to make Valeant one of the world’s top five pharmaceutical companies, with a market value of roughly $150 billion, he said.

Valeant announced a deal valued at US$250 million a few weeks ago to buy California-based Solta Medical Inc., a company that makes medical devices for skin tightening, body contouring and treating inflammatory acne, for example. The deal adds to Valeant’s injectable products for the face as well as skin-care and prescription products.

That deal capped off a year that saw Valeant make 25 acquisitions, including Bausch + Lomb, and Pearson said he expects more than that number in 2014. Valeant has a history of focusing on emerging markets, such as Latin America, Southeast Asia, Russia and parts of Europe, that aren’t in the focus of big pharmaceutical companies.

The company isn’t looking for “blockbuster products,” Pearson said, and prefers to diversify its risk with a wide range of offerings. Valeant has been focusing on dermatology, eye care, esthetics, non-prescription and niche products. Among its many acquisitions has been Edmonton-based Afexa Life Sciences, maker of the cold and flu remedy Cold-FX.

Valeant Pharamceuticals Inc., originally based in California, merged with Canada’s Biovail in 2010 and was headquartered in Mississauga, Ont. It moved its global headquarters to Laval, near Montreal, in 2012 and its website says it has 17,000 employees worldwide.

Pearson said he’s still looking for a “merger of equals” to make Valeant, Canada’s largest publicly traded drug company, even bigger. Pearson said Valeant is ranked about 14th globally in terms of its current market capitalization, which was about $44 billion on Tuesday. U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson and France’s Sanofi are among the top 10 pharma companies in terms of market capitalization.

Valeant (TSX:VRX) would have to more than triple its current market value to reach its goal of $150 billion by the end of 2016 and Pearson, while providing few details, said it would mean merging companies of comparable size that would produce savings and have complementary products.

“Unless you aim high, you don’t achieve high,” he told analysts earlier. “So we’re going to work hard to get there. Precisely how we get there, we can’t say at this time.”

Canaccord Genuity analyst Neil Maruoka noted that Valeant usually provides a number of “stretch goals that catch investors’ attention,” but said it’s not impossible that it could become a major global company.

“While achieving this goal would definitely require a merger of equals and there is no certainty as to when or if this will be completed, we continue to expect that management will make significant progress towards this goal over the next two years,” Maruoka said.

He also said the company’s financial guidance is generally in line with what analyst forecast.

Valeant announced that it expects revenue of between $8.2 billion to $8.6 billion for its 2014 financial year, an increase of 40 per cent, and cash earnings between $8.25 and $8.75 per share, also an increase of 40 per cent from 2013.

Shares in Valeant closed up $15.04, or 12.53 per cent, at $135.03 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.