Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) CEO Chris Viehbacher (pictured) said in a webcast Wednesday he believes his French pharmaceutical company will eventually buy U.S. biotech company Genzyme (GENZ) at a reasonable price. However, he expects it will take some time to agree on a deal, and he won't rush into anything.
Sanofi has been courting Genzyme already for nearly two months, according to reports, but it was only in late August that Sanofi made public its then month-old proposal to buy the U.S. firm for $18.5 billion, following an unsuccessful attempt to hold talks with management. Genzyme promptly rejected the offer, calling it an "opportunistic takeover proposal."
The Cambridge, Mass., biotechnology company specializes in creating drugs for rare diseases: It's a small, but highly lucrative market. But in early 2009, the company ran into manufacturing problems, which caused shortages of its top-selling drugs, and sales and profits plunged. Genzyme also has two influential activist investors, Carl Icahn and Ralph Whitworth: It's unlikely a merger offer could succeed unless they are convinced the deal is good enough.
As for Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis, it will need help replacing lost revenue and bolstering its drug pipeline. Five of its eight best-selling drugs will lose patent protection by 2012, exposing them to generic competition. Buying Genzyme would help Sanofi partly overcome its patent cliff problem and, in addition, boost its weak biotech division and strengthen its U.S. foothold.
Half of Genzyme's Shareholders Would Sell
So, while it seems both companies need each other, and that a deal could indeed get done, Viehbacher on Wednesday reiterated that Sanofi would not be rushed to buy Genzyme.
"I think there's a reasonable shot at a deal getting done at a reasonable price, but it's not going to be a quick process," Viehbacher said in the webcast, according to Reuters.
"I don't think they are in a hurry, and neither are we in hurry," Viehbacher added. "I don't see anybody else coming into the deal, so that's not pushing anybody in terms of speed."
He further said he had met with about half of Genzyme shareholders in the U.S. last week and found they are willing to sell their shares at a reasonable price, but he didn't say what that price is.
He said he was still hoping to meet with Genzyme management to discuss Sanofi's offer of $69 a share, but that so far, that has proven more difficult.
On Aug. 30, Viehbacher indicated he was willing to raise the bid if his counterpart at Genzyme, Henri Termeer, came to the negotiating table, Bloomberg reported.
As it stands now, both companies are far apart on price. Bloomberg notes that Genzyme investors have been seeking at least $80 a share, based on potential revenue growth after the production deficiencies responsible for drug shortages get resolved, as shareholder Lionel Melka, the chief investment officer for Bernheim Dreyfus & Co., said this month. And most believe that Genzyme's board would accept an offer no lower than $75 a share.