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Bausch Health plans for 'myopia epidemic'; Biogen leans on pipeline over M&A

CEOs from the world's largest pharmaceutical companies teased investors at the packed J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco with details about potential future acquisitions, new research areas and "megatrends" that will drive growth in 2019 and beyond.

Bausch Health Cos. Inc. CEO Joseph Papa said the company is ready to switch to offense after overcoming a stock plummet that brought its shares from $260 per share in 2015 to under $9 less than two years later. The company changed its name in 2018 from Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which had become wrapped up in the federal drug pricing debate, and Papa took the helm in 2016.

With controversy behind them, Bausch is now preparing its eye care business for what Papa calls the "myopia epidemic," that is the dramatic increase in nearsightedness seen across the globe. Papa blamed the trend on the increasing use of cellphones, computers and other handheld devices, as well as a lack of outdoor activities.

Nearsightedness can be a risk factor for more serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and retinal detachment, Papa said.

"It's a megatrend here in the U.S., in terms of the older population," Papa said. "This myopia epidemic, we think [it] is real and something that we are going to prepare ourselves [for]."

Papa also provided a general business update, noting that the company reduced $1 billion of debt in 2018, bringing the total reduction to $7.6 billion since 2016. Looking forward, Papa said Bausch Health is ready for growth, and will be on the lookout for bolt-on acquisitions while continuing to reduce debt. The company will also grow its research and development by 10% in 2019.

Allergan doubles down on aesthetics

Allergan plc President, Chairman and CEO Brent Saunders previewed ambitious plans to continue its dominance in medical aesthetics. The company plans to launch one to two new aesthetics products per year for the next several years, according to Saunders.

"In my opinion, there is no better business in the biopharmaceutical industry than medical aesthetics," the Allergan chief said.

Saunders said the aesthetics market is expected to double in the next five to six years, and the company has penetrated just 7% of the global market. Allergan hopes to grow that to 10% to 15% in the next few years. To do so, Saunders said the company will look to millennials, who are open to the procedures.

Saunders also pointed to the company's pipeline, which features 47 drug candidates across its therapeutic areas, of which 12 are in phase 3 development.

"We make very tough and prudent decisions about which programs to advance and which ones to kill, and that's a hallmark of our investment in clinical development," Saunders said.

Biogen 'not desperate' for M&A

Biogen Inc. CEO Michel Vounatsos said while the company has the capacity to consider M&A activity, its main focus is on advancing the existing pipeline.

"The financial health of the organization is very strong because we had the right discipline, we had the right focus, we went early stage, we are not desperate," Vounatsos said. "We do not place major M&A and acquisition at the top of the list."

The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco brings together more than 9,000 investors, analysts and executives from more than 450 public and private companies.