Belgian group UCB, fresh from making an offer for UK biotech company Celltech, has announced plans to sell off its chemicals unit and become a pharmaceuticals pure play, reports Phil Taylor.
UCB is planning to divest its chemicals business within the next 12 months to pay off bank debt it will accrue as part of the £1.53 billion (€2.29bn) Celltech transaction.
Analysts have suggested that UCB's chemicals activities - which include additives, adhesives and industrial coatings such as packaging films and are now collected under the Surface Specialties banner - could fetch around €1 billion. However, the current difficult operating environment for chemicals companies, particularly the rising cost of raw materials caused by the current high price of oil, could make finding a buyer difficult.
Although the names of Akzo Nobel and DSM have already entered the rumour mill as potential buyers for the business, it has also been suggested that private financiers could be interested in the unit. There have been a number of examples of this type of deal of late, with private equity groups behind the purchases of Dynamit Nobel, Merck KGaA subsidiary VWR International and Cognis.
Meanwhile, UCB's bid for Celltech has raised concerns that the UK's standing as a leader in the European biotechnology is under threat. With Amersham now part of the US General Electric group, and PowderJect snapped up by US biotech firm Chiron last year, Celltech remains the only biotech major in the country.
However, UCB could see itself on the UK stock exchange in the wake of a merger with Celltech, as divestment of chemicals would make it easier to fulfil the criteria for listing.