Deal deadline looms for SkyePharma

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Asthma

UK drug development company SkyePharma, which put itself up for
sale last month, has said that several new bidders have expressed
interest in buying some of its assets as well as acquiring the
entire company for cash.

>SkyePharma​ attracted the further bidders after confirming last month that it was in talks with smaller rival, Innovata, a biotechnology group.

"In the light of such interest, the board has decided to open its books to a number of interested parties, including rivals, to allow them to commence due diligence on the company,"​ said a company statement.

According to analyst Sav Neophytou of >Seymour Pierce,​ Innovata is unlikely to acquire SkyePharma, as companies including Pfizer, Schering Plough, Merck and Sanofi Aventis who have shown interest in licensing the company's respiratory portfolio are the most likely suitors.

The company has hired Lehman Brothers to review its strategic alternatives.

Shareholders have given the board a two-week deadline that runs out this week, to come up with a proper proposal, failing which they would try to oust SkyePharma's chairman and founder, Ian Gowrie-Smith.

SkyePharma ran into trouble in September when it was forced to raise £35 million (€ 52 million) to carry out Phase III trials of its flagship drug for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Flutiform, after failing to find a partner for the project.

The news was disappointing, as a deal would have resulted in a licensing fee and milestone payments that would have played a part in SkyePharma's efforts to reach profitability.

News of the rights issue came on the same day as SkyePharma reported interim results, which showed losses widening to £9.1 million from £8.6 million in the first half of 2004, in line with expectations.

The announcement led to a 17 per cent fall in the share price on the day of the announcement and at the same time, Michael Ashton, SkyePharma's CEO, announced that he would retire by the annual general meeting next year.

Flutiform (fluticasone and formoterol) is a fixed dose combination of a corticosteroid and beta agonist that will compete with blockbuster products such as GlaxSmithKline's Advair/Seretide (salmeterol and fluticasone) and AstraZeneca's Symbicort (formoterol and budesonide).

Any company that acquires SkyePharma will need to be large enough to market the product against the big pharmaceutical company rivals.

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