Nycomed May Up Solvay Unit Bid as Sale Decision Looms

LONDON (Reuters) – Nycomed, the private equity-owned Swiss drugmaker, is looking at sweetening its bid for Solvay’s (SOLB.BR) drugs unit with the Belgian chemical and drug maker’s board set to meet to decide on the unit’s future.

Sources familiar with the matter said Solvay’s board would meet on either Friday or Saturday to discuss the unit, which has been up for sale since April, and which analysts have valued at roughly 5 billion euros ($7.3 billion).

On Thursday, a source familiar with the matter said Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N), Solvay’s U.S. partner for the blockbuster TriCor, had made an offer for the unit. [ID:nLO39984]

That was an apparent reversal of its position. As recently as July, Abbott said it was strong enough in fenofibrates, the class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that includes TriCor.

Sources have said previously that Nycomed bid 4.0-4.5 billion euros for the unit earlier in September.

One source said on Friday that Nycomed would have to “clench their jaws and put some more money on the table”, and there was room to sweeten the offer which relies heavily on fresh equity from Nycomed’s owners and junk bonds.

However, a second source said Nycomed would do whatever it could to improve its position but was constrained financially. This source said Nycomed’s original offer was worth less than 4 billion euros if contingent payments — which depend on meeting performance targets — were stripped out.

UCB SA (UCB.BR), Belgium’s other major drugmaker, has also indicated to Solvay it would be interested in a deal involving the unit but “not at any price”, and has not submitted a formal bid nor secured financing, one source said on Friday.

The Solvay sell-off would be the latest consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry as drugmakers look to build scale to cut costs and grapple with a looming wall of patent expiries.

Analysts said Solvay could reinvest some of the proceeds to build its chemicals and plastics businesses, perhaps growing in Asia and in higher-margin specialty products.

Solvay, Nycomed and UCB declined to comment.

(Reporting by Quentin Webb in London; Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam; Editing by Dan Lalor) ($1 = 0.6810 euro)