Shire offloads oncology business to French firm for $2.4bn

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Pharmaceutical giant Shire has agreed to sell its oncology business to French firm Servier for 2.4 billion US dollars (£1.68 billion), ahead of a potential takeover offer by Japan’s Takeda.

The drug-maker’s board has given the green light to the deal, which does not require shareholder approval and is now expected to close in the second or third quarter of 2018.

The firm, which has its headquarters in Dublin, started looking at offloading the oncology business in December, and said the process considered “multiple potential strategic buyers” across Europe, Japan and the US.

Shire said it was considering returning proceeds of the sale to investors through a share buyback programme after the current offer period - during which Takeda could launch a formal bid - expires.

Shire chief executive Flemming Ornskov said: “This transaction is a key milestone for Shire, demonstrating the clear value embedded in our portfolio.

“While the oncology business has delivered high growth and profitability, we have concluded that it is not core to Shire’s longer-term strategy.

“We will continue to evaluate our portfolio for opportunities to unlock further value and sharpen our focus on rare disease leadership with selective disposals of non-strategic assets.

“We are confident that Servier will continue to invest in this business and our colleagues who are expected to transfer as part of the transaction in order to meet the needs of cancer patients globally.”

Shire shares rose as much as 1.8% on the back of the news.

The company’s stock price surged last month after Osaka-based Takeda said it was considering making a takeover approach for the £32.8 billion valued firm.

According to UK takeover rules, Takeda must now either make an offer for Shire or walk away by April 25.

Some experts have questioned how any potential deal will be funded, given that Takeda is worth billions less than its takeover target.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Takeda had approached lenders about providing the cash, and that its chief executive was on its way to the US to meet with top investors ahead of making a potential offer.

Takeda, which was founded in 1781 and employs 30,000 people, has a strong presence in emerging markets and operates in more than 70 countries.

It said last month that a potential transaction with Shire presented an opportunity to create a “truly global, value-based Japanese biopharmaceutical leader”, strengthening its core oncology, gastrointestinal and neuroscience offerings.

In addition, a tie-up would help realise the Japanese company’s R&D strategy, drive financial value and allow it to exploit further opportunities in the US.

If a deal were to be struck, it would see the hunter become the hunted after Shire itself went on the acquisition trail only two years ago when it bought Baxalta for 32 billion US dollars (£22.6 billion).

Last year, Shire’s revenues doubled following the takeover to 3.57 billion US dollars (£2.52 billion), the bulk of which came from the Baxalta business.

When stripped of legacy Baxalta sales, revenues rose only 11% to 1.8 billion US dollars (£1.39 billion).

Commenting on its purchase of Shire’s oncology business, Servier Group president Olivier Laureau said: “This acquisition allows us to establish a direct commercial presence in the United States, the world’s leading pharmaceuticals market, and to strengthen our portfolio of marketed products in the territories where Servier is already present.

“Our goal is to bring these treatments to greater numbers of cancer patients around the world. We thoroughly look forward to welcoming Shire’s oncology teams who will join Servier after the closing.”