Belgium’s Solvay says it is looking at alternatives for its pharmaceuticals business and the latter’s future within the group.

The Brussels-headquartered firm has issued a statement in response to a report in the Financial Times that a major European drugmaker could make an offer to buy the pharmaceutical division of Solvay’s business which also consists of chemicals and plastics. The FT’s Alphaville blog went further and reported that Sanofi-Aventis is understood to have made a direct approach to Solvac, the family-owned holding investment group that controls 30% of Solvay.

The FT says that Solvac rejected the offer, which effectively valued the whole company at 7.2 billion euros, or 85 euros per share. It was reported that the holding group believes Solvay to be worth more than 100 euros per share.

Solvay has responded by saying that it is company policy to “constantly review its activities” and the firm confirmed it is “proceeding with an analysis of various options for its pharmaceutical activities”. This involves “various contacts and discussions with third parties”, Solvay added, but “at this stage, this does not involve any other decision in this respect”.

Alphaville, which also claims that Solvay has been consulting with Citigroup and Rothschild on options for the drugs business, could also sell the unit to Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.

Solvay posted an 87% slide in net income for the fourth quarter to 29 million euros, hit by a “significant downturn” in its chemicals and plastics divisions, though pharmaceuticals put in a strong performance.
Revenues for the unit were up 15% to 754 million euros while for the full year, pharma sales increased 4% to 2.70 billion euros.

Its biggest-selling treatments are the fenofibrate drugs such as TriCor and TriLipix, co-developed and sold by Abbott Laboratories, and it has 10 potential products in Phase III trials. Indeed Abbott could emerge as a potential buyer for Solvay.

The US firm would not comment on whether it was the "company X" described in recent documents Pfizer filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that had inquired into the possibility of acquiring Wyeth before the New York-based drugs giant made its move. Abbott has, however, said that it is not interested in a big pharma deal, so perhaps Solvay could fit the bill.

News that some sort of deal could be in the offing pushed Solvay shares up 9% to 57.50 euros.

Sanofi buys Kendrick
One deal that is a definite is Sanofi's purchase, announced this morning, of Laboratorios Kendrick, a leading Mexican generics group.

The acquisition, the financial details of which were not disclosed, is the latest example of the French drugmaker's strategy of expanding in emerging markets and creating a bigger presence in generics. Kendrick sales last year reached 500 million pesos, about 26 million euros, and the firm has a market share of around 15%. Its portfolio contains more than 50 treatments, including cardiovascular, analgesics, antiallergy and central nervous system drugs.

Sanofi is already the market leader in Mexico, with revenues of about 600 million euros in 2008 and a workforce that is 2,500-strong. The Paris-based group also recently announced that it is going to build a 100 million euro facility to manufacture pandemic influenza vaccine in the country.

Sanofi launched its own generics unit in Mexico in 2007 which ranks number eight in that sector.