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EU majors reported to be looking at Genzyme

By Gareth Macdonald , 26-Jul-2010

European drugmakers Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are rumoured to be looking at a possible acquisition of US biotechnology group Genzyme.

Bloomberg reported that Sanofi had made a bid for Genzyme a few weeks ago, about the time rumours suggested the French group was looking at a $20bn US takeover , while the Wall Street Journal said GSK had made a “very casual approach.”

A GSK spokeswoman told in-pharmatechnologist the firm does not comment on merger and acquisition speculation, while Sanofi did not respond to a request for additional information ahead of publication.

Manufacturing problems

Genzyme has struggled with manufacturing problems in recent years, particularly at its key facility in Allston, Massachusetts, so at first glance it may not be the most obvious takeover target.

However, despite being subject to an FDA consent decree , in the last few months Genzyme has sought to fix its problems and, through deals with contractors , maintain the production of its range of market-leading specialist biotech drugs.

These efforts, if the rumours are correct, coupled with Genzyme’s market dominance and Big Pharma’s need to replace at risk pipelines with hard-to-copy drugs may have made the US biotech an attractive takeover proposition.

And, although patent expiry affects all Big Pharmas, such worries are likely to be foremost among Sanofi's concerns given that, last week, US authorities approved Novartis and Momenta Pharmaceuticals' copy of the firm's $3.9bn selling blood thinner Lovenox.

Shareholder pressure

Additionally, while Genzyme, like GSK and Sanofi, has not commented on the latest speculation, a sale would fit with noises key shareholder Carl Icahn made earlier this year when he spoke about efforts to “fix” the firm.

In a statement issued at the time he said: “Given that Genzyme's management has performed so poorly in the past, our first task will be to attempt to help fix what is broken.

"We have heard from a number of shareholders that they have very little faith in the current board and believe that there should be a major shake-up in its composition."

The firm’s share price jumped 15 per cent to $62.52 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange when the takeover speculation broke.

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