Two firms act in record-breaking Australian biotech deal

An American pharmaceutical behemoth bags a promising Australian cancer-research firm

Two firms act in record-breaking Australian biotech deal

A global law firm and a leading independent Australian firm are providing legal expertise as an American pharmaceutical behemoth acquires a promising Australian cancer-research company.

Baker McKenzie is advising Merck & Co., known as Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) outside of North America, in its acquisition of Viralytics Limited.  McCullough Robertson is acting for Viralytics, which has been a client since 2004.

In the scheme of arrangement for the acquisition, MSD has offered $1.75 per share of ASX-traded Viralytics, valuing the company at about $502m. This is the largest offer ever for a local drug developer in the commercial history of biotechnology in Australia.

Viralytics owns the drug known as Cavatak, a virus that preferentially attacks cancer cells and leaves other healthy cells alone. The treatment has resulted in tumour reduction in a high percentage of cases in trials in the US and is said to be more effective when paired with MSD’s Keytruda drug, which buffs patients’ immune systems.

David Holland, who heads the Asia-Pacific and Australian capital markets teams, is leading Baker McKenzie’s deal team. He is supported by senior associate Gabriella Plummer and a due diligence team with lawyers from most practice groups of the firm.

Capital markets partner Reece Walker and corporate partner Jim Peterson are leading the McCullough Robertson team. They are being assisted by senior associate Ben Wood and lawyer Naomi Benton. Partner Duncan Bedford is providing Australian Foreign Investment Review Board expertise, while partner Belinda Breakspear is handling IP matters.

The deal, which is subjects to customary conditions including shareholder, court, and regulatory approvals, is expected to close in June.


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