Amersham yesterday confirmed that it had received a bid from an unnamed suitor wishing to buy the entire company. The company's shares rose more than 16 per cent to £6.41, adding £632 million to its market capitalisation.
Local press reports in the UK were full of speculation over the identity of the would-be buyer, with Switzerland's Roche and Johnson & Johnson of the USA both put forward as companies with interests that encompass Amersham's broad focus, which covers medical imaging (Amersham Health) and tools for drug discovery and protein separations (Amersham Biosciences).
Other companies bandied around included Abbott Laboratories, DuPont, Siemens and General Electric, and a report in the UK's Independent newspaper suggested that the value of the bid was £5 billion.
Amersham's present structure is the result of a series of acquisitions orchestrated by the firm's chairman Sir William Castell. In 1997 the firm merged with Sweden's Pharmacia Biotech to create Amersham Biosciences, and this was followed just weeks later by a marriage to Norway's Nycomed to form Nycomed Amersham, which eventually became Amersham Health.
Within Amersham Biosciences, the protein separations division is profitable, while the drug discovery division posted a loss last year and is currently in the midst of a restructuring exercise.
In July, the company reported lower sales and pre-tax profits for the first half of 2003 compared to the same period of 2002, in line with analysts' expectations and the prevailing economic conditions, and trimmed its profits forecast for this year by £40 million (€56m).