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15 February, 2021 - 17:18 By Tony Quested

Region’s M & A haul tops $100 billion in 12 months

Acquisitions involving East of England companies in the past 12 calendar months have raced past $100 billion thanks to a blockbusting start to M & A activity in 2021. 

While the DeepTech and life sciences sectors have dominated, the Covid-clouded business environment has acted as a catalyst for a high number of B2B Mergers & Acquisitions.

The mood music at the start of this year was set by Kymab’s $1.45bn acquisition by Sanofi – a record for a private UK biotech – but went into full swing last week when another Cambridge BioMedTech star – GW Pharmaceuticals – was sold to Jazz Pharmaceuticals for $7.2bn.

This latter deal sparked musings in the Cambridge life science community that no BioMedTech deal would top that figure in 2021. Rien ne va plus? Place your bets but don’t push your luck!

The $100bn+ haul could be deflated, of course, if regulators in a number of territories decide to block NVIDIA’s £40bn swoop for Cambridge chip architect Arm. 

Competition authorities in the UK and Europe are already fielding objections with several countries to follow but NVIDIA says there is nothing to fear from the proposed takeover.

You don’t have to be a star geography student to work out that investors in the land of King Dollar predominate with big bucks acquisitions but there is no lack of appetite in Europe or Asia.

In fact Jazz is headquartered in Dublin and Sanofi is a French-anchored multinational. What doesn’t alter is the view globally that the Cambridge Science & Technology Cluster is the place to shop for quality buys. 

Up to the back end of last week, January and very early February 2021 acquisitions involved transactions totalling an estimated $10.7bn; that figure assumes around $600m being paid by US private equity power player The Carlyle Group for video games company Jagex. 

Broker-in the GW Pharma and Kymab sales and add Qualcomm’s purchase of NUVIA for $1.4bn to get to the $10.7bn total.

The recent sale of Jagex was the second time in eight months that the Cambridge firm had been sold, having previously moved out of Chinese ownership and into American hands for $530m. 

Setting aside the potential Arm-NVIDIA deal, UltraSoC went to Siemens for an undisclosed amount last summer while KaNDy Therapeutics was acquired by Bayer for $1bn+, DisplayLink by Synaptics for $407m and Horizon Discovery by PerkinElmer for $383m cash.

It wasn’t all one way traffic on the transactional super highway. In the last 12 calendar months Cambridge-based Big Biotech AstraZeneca paid $39bn for Alexion, genomics giant Illumina netted GRAIL for $8bn and AVEVA took OSIsoft  for $5bn. 

In more modest deals in other industries Countrywide accepted a $177.6m offer from Connells Group while Midwich bought Starin Marketing Inc. for $46.1m.

This latter deal was wrapped up in February 2020 with Midwich MD Stephen Fenby explaining: “The acquisition of Starin is a significant day in Midwich Group’s history, marking our entry into North America, the largest AV market in the world.”

Some firms splash the cash but are coy about saying how much. That was the case when Royston-based managed technologies provider Calteq acquired Herts cable infrastructure company, Blue Cube Networks.

Also in February, law firm Birketts advised the owner of leading commercial maritime company Charity and Taylor on its sale to Aage Hempel Crame, a subsidiary of global specialised marine electronic solutions group Grupo Arbulu – again no figures were released.

Ditto in March as CML Microsystems Plc which designs, manufactures and markets semiconductors primarily for global comms and solid state storage markets, acquired Cambridge technology cluster company Plextek RFI Ltd.
In April, Stevenage Circuits was bought by Tewkesbuty based Trackwise Designs plc in a deal set to reach £2.5m. 

US-based Macarthur Fortune Holding LLC, a global asset management company, paid Shanghai Hongtou $530m for Jagex in May through one of its funds, Platinum Fortune LP. 

The sun shone on Nanna Therapeutics in June when it was sold to Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma Inc in a deal valued at £12m. Nanna is focused on addressing age-related diseases with high unmet medical need including mitochondria-related diseases.

Cambridge-based Global Graphics PLC, quoted on the Euronext Brussels stock exchange, agreed to sell the entire issued share capital of URW Type Foundry GmbH to German business Monotype GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of Monotype Imaging Inc for €7.5m. 

The Synaptics swoop for DisplayLink was an eye-opener in July but the Cambridge end of the operation has suffered agonies since.

Cambridge life science business F-star Therapeutics announced it was merging with US-listed Spring Bank Pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts to land on Nasdaq, the US technology exchange. And chip technology business UltraSoC was acquired by Texas-headquartered Siemens Digital Industries Software. 

The £60m Comtec business in Huntingdon was acquired for an undisclosed sum by French business Euro Techno Com Group, a distributor of telecoms equipment and supplies. 

August saw AVEVA agree terms for the $5bn acquisition of OSIsoft in California and in the same heady month global healthcare giant Bayer committed more than $1bn to acquiring KaNDy Therapeutics, a Stevenage-based clinical-stage biotech company, to expand its product pipeline in the sector. 

Domino Printing in Cambridge announced its acquisition of Lake Image Systems, a market-leading producer of automated, vision-based inspection systems, for quality control and data verification. No figures were released. 

NVIDIA and Arm became engaged in September but it remains to be seen whether the marriage will be consummated. Illumina, whose European research HQ is in Cambridge, announced its $8bn cash and stock acquisition of GRAIL in California that same month.Nasdaq-listed Altair acquired Cambridge software firm Ellexus for an undisclosed sum. 

October was less frantic on the M & A front but Netcall plc, which has operations in Herts and Beds and provides intelligent automation and customer engagement software, acquired Belgian company Oakwood Technologies BV in a deal set to stack up to €3m. 

Norwich company SessionCam, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) digital customer experience provider, was sold to Israeli multinational Glassbox Digital. 

Come November come another sale of a coveted Cambridge life science business into American ownership. Horizon Discovery, a world gene editing leader, was acquired by Wall Street quoted PerkinElmer for $383m.

Dallas company Jacobs Engineering, also quoted on Wall Street, agreed to buy a 65 per cent stake in technology innovator PA Consulting which valued the Cambridge Cluster business at $2.4bn.

AstraZeneca handed out some pre-Christmas largesse by paying $39bn for Boston US pharmaceutical business Alexion to boost its share of a burgeoning immunology market. 

Also in December, quoted Cambridge company IQGeo agreed to pay $8.75m for US software operator OSPInsight International, Inc. The deal promised IQGeo a taste of honey in the Beehive State of Utah from where OSPInsight has created a buzz internationally. 

One of the biggest deals in the UK property arena in recent times was brought about the marriage of Beds-based Connells and Essex competitor Countrywide thanks to a dowry of £130m.

Scientific and technology specialist SDI Group bought Monmouth Scientific, a UK manufacturer of biological safety cabinets, fume cupboards, laminar flow cabinets and cleanrooms, for around $5.8m.

Besides the Kymab and GW Pharma mega deals there were several January 2021 transactions where the numbers were not especially large but the players involved were big hitters in their own right.

Law firm Birketts advised the shareholders of Total Tiles Limited on a £6m sale to the CMOstores.com group which specialises in online stores delivering building supplies.

Total Capital Partners funded the management buyout of Cambridgeshire precision engineering business Precise Component Manufacture Limited (PCML). Total Capital is providing £17m of equity and debt and will take an 85 per cent stake in the business.

Cambridge’s SPT Labtech paid an undisclosed sum for a California based global leader in the design and development of automated instrumentation and consumables for life science applications. Formerly TTP Labtech, the UK business acquired Apricot Designs Inc.

The major early-February deals have been extensively reported in Business Weekly in print and online but in case you missed it, watch out for further developments between Creightons plc and InnovaDerma.

Creightons in Peterborough is weighing up its options over a potential second bid for InnovaDerma, a global maker of Skinny Tan and other health and beauty products. The company has had one bid rejected but market watchers reckon this was just an opening gambit and that a deal, believed to be worth around £7.6m, will prove tempting to InnovaDerma shareholders now the offer is out in the open.

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