Nycomed could be facing some serious competition in the battle to buy Solvay’s pharmaceutical unit, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper is claiming that Abbott Laboratories has emerged as a potential rival to purchase the unit and cites “people familiar with the matter” as saying that a bid has been made. Analysts have valued Solvay’s pharmaceutical division at 4-5 billion euros and it has been reported that fellow Belgian group UCB may be planning to make an offer.

News of rival bids will likely drive up the price for the unit though Solvay has not actually said it is definitely selling but is looking at strategic options for the unit. The WSJ reports that the company’s board is scheduled to meet tomorrow.

Nycomed had been seen as the frontrunner, and possibly the only runner, in the race to buy the unit and it is thought that the Switzerland-headquartered, privately-held firm recently made an offer closer to the 4 billion euro mark. Abbott, Solvay’s partner on the cholesterol drugs TriCor (fenofibrate) and TriLipix (fenofibric acid), had previously suggested that it was not interested in making an offer for the whole division but according to the WSJ, it has had a change of heart.

The newspaper also presents a good case for a UCB bid, noting that there is “some overlap in the ownership structure” of the two Belgian groups. The Janssen family is a large shareholder in a holding company that owns 36.2% of UCB, and is also among the families that control Solvac, which has a 30% stake in Solvay.