Abbott exploring sale of vaccines unit

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Influenza, Influenza vaccine

Abbott Laboratories has confirmed it is considering the sale of the vaccines unit it gained with the €4.5bn ($6.2bn) acquisition of Solvay Pharmaceuticals in February.

Spokesman Scott Stoffel told in-Pharmatechnologist that: “Abbott is exploring the option to potentially sell the Solvay vaccine business​,” but did not say if Abbott is in talks with potential suitors.

The business, which is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, manufacturers a range of products including the seasonal influenza sub unit vaccine Influvac and, according to Stoffel, generated revenues of €162m in 2009.

Unsubstantiated media reports suggest that Abbott has put a €500 million price tag on the business, although the US health care major has not yet confirmed the speculation.

And, while Abbott did not give reasons for the move, observers suggested that the business lacks the scale needed to compete effectively against industry leaders like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Sanofi Pasteur and Novartis.

Datamonitor analyst Hedwig Kresse, for example, said that: “The company is a niche player without critical mass in the increasingly competitive seasonal flu vaccine market​.”

Cell-based attraction

The Wall Street Journal​ reported that GSK is among the potential bidders, suggesting that the unit’s presence in the Eastern European vaccine market would be an attractive growth option for the firm.

Datamonitor agreed, suggesting that: “Abbott's cell-based manufacturing technology could provide an incentive to GlaxoSmithKline, which is lagging behind other flu vaccine players with regards to cell-based manufacturing​.”

However they also suggested that GSK may face competition from UK rival AstraZeneca who may table a bid to bolster the existing vaccines business operated by its MedImmune subsidiary.

Neither GSK nor AstraZeneca has commented on the speculation.

Pharma chief steps down

In other news Oliver Bohuon, head of Abbott’s pharmaceutical division, has resigned from the position he has held since July 2009 to pursue “another opportunity​.”

Bohuon, who will be replaced on an interim basis by former Abbott president and chief operating officer Richard Gonzalez, will join French pharmaceutical firm Pierre Fabre as CEO in September.

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