The news that Biogen Idec is up for sale has seen Elan Corp, which signed up the US firm as a partner for Tysabri in 2000, engage the services of Lehman Brothers to help it weigh up its options concerning the multiple sclerosis drug.

The Irish company has reacted swiftly to the news that broke late on Friday night that Biogen has authorised management to look at a sale of the firm “on terms that would represent a better value for its stockholders than having the company continue to execute its strategy on a stand-alone basis”. Specifically, the company disclosed that it has received “expressions of interest”, including one from billionaire investor Carl Icahn who bought into Biogen in August and is prepared to buy the firm outright.

Biogen’s board stressed that a possible sale was not coming from a position of weakness, claiming that its “strategy is working and generating strong operating and financial performance”. The firm said it is confident that its business update on September 6, which outlined its plans for Tysabri (natalizumab) and highlighted six late-stage clinical programmes, “will result in attractive value for stockholders” but it is looking to see “whether potential strategic interest on the part of major pharmaceutical companies might result in superior value in the current environment.”

Biogen said that Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch have been hired to weigh up the options but says that “there can be no assurance that an acquisition of the company will occur”. Elan is ready for the possibility, however, and noted that if a third party acquires control of Biogen, it has “several options”.

FDA extends Tysabri for Crohn’s review

These include the right to acquire “for fair value” the 50% economic interest in Tysabri currently held by Biogen or indeed to sell its own stake. However the alliance has received something of a setback with the news that the US Food and Drug Administration is to extend its regulatory review of Tysabri as a treatment for Crohn’s disease by up to three months.

The agency says that it requires additional time to review information regarding the proposed risk-management plan for the drug Crohn’s disease, so any action on the filing will not be forthcoming until January next year.

As for Biogen, its shares shot up almost 18% in extended trading on Friday when the news of the potential sale came out.