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Merck, Nycomed stoke European drugs merger heat, Reuters, 09/21/2006 Merck, Nycomed stoke European drugs merger heat
FRANKFURT, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Consolidation in Europe's drugs sector gathered steam onThursday as Germany's Merck unveiled a $13.3-billion deal to buy Europe's top biotech firm Serono ,and Denmark's Nycomed won the drugs unit of Altana .
Merck, which earlier this year failed in its bid to buy rival Schering , said it had struck a deal withSerono's founding Bertarelli family to buy their 64.5-percent stake, and would make a public offer forthe rest of the shares at the same price of 1,100 Swiss francs a share in cash.
Altana, Merck's German rival, said later in the day that it had sold its drugs unit to unlisted Danishfirm Nycomed for around 4.5 billion euros, slightly higher than analysts had expected.
Altana's sale breaks up one of Europe's last surviving drugs-and-chemicals hybrids, but Merckunderlined its resolve to retain its lucrative chemicals business even after the Serono deal, which willbulk up its drugs business.
Merck shares ended down 4.7 percent at 74.70 euros on worries that the firm had overpaid. Shares inSwitzerland's Serono jumped nearly 18 percent to 1,076 Swiss francs, and analysts said they did notexpect a counter-bid.
Merck, Serono and Altana are still family-controlled, like many other medium-sized European drugfirms, which industry analysts say has made them slow to change.
Now they are finding that the middle ground in the drugs business is shrinking, as big pharmaceuticalcompanies at one end of the spectrum cosy up to small biotech firms at the other.
"They need to do deals because they cannot compete with the big boys," said Martyn Postle, directorof UK consultancy Cambridge Healthcare and Biotech.
Altana's disposal is driven by a desire to focus on chemicals and a realisation that the future of itsdrugs business is limited by a poor pipeline and looming patent expiry on its top drug, ulcer treatmentpantoprazole.
In June, Germany's Bayer bought Schering for 17 billion euros, the biggest deal in Bayer's 143-yearhistory and the first major consolidation in Germany's drug industry.
The two deals are the latest in a string of mergers among mid-sized drug firms, which are struggling tocompete against industry giants like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline .
Combined, Merck and Serono would rank as one of Europe's biggest drug groups, with a market valueof around $30 billion, based on the Serono takeover price, annual sales of almost $10 billion and aresearch budget of around $1.3 billion.
Private investors Nordic Capital, Credit Suisse Private Equity and Blackstone, the owners ofNycomed, will be playing a role as consolidators through the Altana buy, which creates a businesswith total sales of over 3 billion euros.
While Altana's sale of its pharma unit was well flagged, the sudden sale of Serono took analysts bysurprise.
It came after Serono's chief executive, billionaire sailor Ernesto Bertarelli, said he was looking fortakeover targets after abandoning attempts to find a buyer.
"Smaller pharmaceutical companies either have to find a perfect niche or think of ways to secure theirfuture by mergers and acquisitions," said Christopher Kummer, director of the Institute of Mergers,Acquisitions and Alliances at Webster University in Vienna.
"Keeping in mind that Bertarelli announced an acquisition strategy, and that assigned Serono the roleof predator planning acquisitions, today's news is a complete surprise," said Tilman Dumrese, seniorhealthcare analyst at Sal. Oppenheim.
A German fund manager with shares in Merck said he was sceptical about the deal. "I don't think it's agreat idea. They were desperate and had to do something," he said.
In a sign of the consolidation fever that has gripped stock markets, shares in another German firm,Schwarz Pharma, rose on talk that it might be bought by financial investors. The company declined tocomment.
(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London)


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