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The multibillion dollar merger of Amgen Inc. and Immunex Corp. is the latest in a wave of biotech industry consolidation that is keeping law firms busy and is helping some offset the steep falloff in dot-com corporate transactions. The $16 billion deal is the biggest merger of two biotech companies to date. “This is clearly going to be the bellwether deal” for the biotech industry, said Latham & Watkins partner Charles Nathan, who, along with Charles Ruck, led the 20-plus attorney team that represented Amgen. The team was tapped on the shoulder in August, said Nathan. Immunex, based in Seattle, was represented by New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Partners Roger Aaron and Stephen Arcano led an east coast team of 10 lawyers in the deal. According to Nathan, the deal is the largest of the quarter for Latham, California’s highest-grossing law firm. And it will likely be one of the top four or five of the year for the firm. Under the terms of the deal, Amgen will pay 15 percent in cash. The other 85 percent will be in stock, with Amgen paying about $30 a share for Immunex. The deal was very complex, said Natham, because Immunex is 41 percent owned by American Home Products. “There was really a third party very much involved,” said Nathan. “That always gets things more complicated and more challenging.” It’s unclear how much Latham or Skadden will pocket in fees, though the huge value of the deal — combined with the number of attorneys billing hours for the past five months — means it will undoubtedly be a substantial figure. The acquisition caps a string of recent biotech mergers, with each successive deal rising in value. Earlier this month, MedImmune plunked down $1.3 billion to acquire Aviron (also represented by Latham). Later that same week, Millennium Pharmaceuticals announced a $2 billion deal to acquire Cor Therapeutics in what was then the largest merger of two biotech companies. “There is a sort of mating frenzy going on right now,” said Bruce Jenett, co-chair of San Francisco firm Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe’s life sciences national practice group. While Jenett believes this frenzy will eventually die down, he expects to see more consolidation in the near future. But this week’s Amgen-Immunex deal could augur a troubling trend for San Francisco Bay Area law firms that have gone out of their way to court biotech clients. As biotech mergers rise in value, it’s possible that companies might eschew the specialized life sciences-focused law firms in favor of corporate M&A experts like Skadden. Alan Mendelson, a Latham partner who worked on the deal, acknowledged that life sciences-focused law firms without strong M&A expertise might have difficulties getting big-ticket transactions. “If we didn’t have world class guys like Chuck [Nathan], frankly I think that even for Amgen — which has been a client of mine for 20 years — we wouldn’t have been able to get the case.”

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