Bayer has confirmed that major acquisitions for its healthcare division are not on the agenda as the German company adopts a more cautious approach given the present economic situation.

Chairman Werner Wenning, speaking at the company’s annual stockholders’ meeting in Düsseldorf., said that Bayer remains “relatively confident about the future…despite the severe global economic crisis”. The firm’s main concerns stem from the “dramatic decline in business” at its MaterialScience division but healthcare remains “on a path of growth”, he added.

The Leverkusen-headquartered firm is most excited about the prospects for the oral anticoagulant Xarelto (rivaroxaban) which has been recommended for approval in the USA and is already available in Europe for the prevention of venous thromboembolism following elective hip or knee-joint replacement surgery.
Xarelto is already in the final phase of clinical development in “the important chronic indications”, Mr Wenning said, adding that it should have peak annual sales of at least 2 billion euros.

In 2008, Bayer also strengthened its business through further acquisitions and in-licensing, with deals such the purchase of Direvo Biotech and buying the haematology development portfolio of Maxygen and Nycomed’s preclinical oncology programme. Mr Wenning said that “I can confirm that this remains our strategy, but for the time being we will give priority to safeguarding our liquidity and further reducing debt”.

This decision has been taken, he noted, “because we are convinced that we need to adopt a cautious approach regarding major acquisitions in view of the considerable uncertainties resulting from the financial and economic crisis”. Mr Wenning concluded by saying that the original aim of limiting the decline in earnings before special items to 5% in 2009 “is increasingly demanding”, but it can still be achieved if there is “a tangible recovery” in the MaterialScience business.