Boutique Firms Steal the Show on Year’s Top Health-Care Deal

Boutique advisory firms are taking most of the limelight on the year’s biggest health-care deal.

AstraZeneca Plc tapped Evercore Inc. and Centerview Partners as lead financial advisers on its $39 billion takeover of Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. This deal helped Evercore jump three places higher in the mergers and acquisitions league tables, to No. 9 globally, while Centerview moved up five spots to No. 12, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were listed as financial advisers as well as lead debt underwriters to Astra, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was also one of the main banks helping fund the deal.

Astra’s boutique-heavy lineup was reminiscent of another big U.K. transaction this year, the $40 billion sale of British chip designer Arm Ltd. In that deal, smaller advisory firms Zaoui & Co. and Raine Group led the discussions for Arm’s owner, SoftBank Group Corp. Goldman Sachs also had a role with the Japanese company.

In contrast to Astra, Alexion did have a Wall Street bulge-bracket firm in its corner, hiring Bank of America Corp. to advise on the transaction. They know Alexion well, having worked with the company last year on its takeover of Achillion Pharmaceuticals Inc. as well as the purchase of Swedish drugmaker Wilson Therapeutics AB in 2018.

One notable name missing from this latest deal was Robey Warshaw LLP, the U.K. boutique that advised Astra when it was the target of Pfizer Inc.’s abortive takeover bid in 2014 — a deal on which Centerview and Evercore were also present. London-based Ondra LLP, which works on a retainer basis, did show up as it provided advice to Astra as part of its ongoing work with the company.

Their appearance was a blast from the past: Ondra has been quiet of late and hasn’t appeared on a major M&A deal in nearly three years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The firm, started by a pair of ex-Lehman Brothers bankers after the 2008 financial crisis, is known for niche expertise in areas like pharmaceuticals.

— With assistance by Fareed Sahloul, Nabila Ahmed, and Ruth David

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