Shares in UK group Shire were given a boost before the weekend on market rumours that US drug giant Pfizer is toying with the idea of making a takeover bid for the firm.

Investor excitement over the potential of such a deal pushed shares up 5% to close at 990 pence on the London Stock Exchange on Friday, after it was reported that the US group had enlisted the services of an investment bank to come up with an appropriate bid. Even so, a final decision on whether to proceed with the move has not yet been taken by Pfizer’s board, according to media reports.

Pfizer will need to look for quick-fix ways to fill the potential gaping hole left by dwindling sales of its number one drug, the cholesterol-buster Lipitor (atorvastatin), after it loses its patent armour in 2010, triggering a flood of copycat versions on the market. Lipitor accounts for the majority of the company’s revenues and, with sales of $12.7 billion last year, remains the world’s biggest selling drug, so its impending loss is likely causing some headaches for the firm.

Furthermore, the drug giant only managed to book flat sales for last year, which climbed just 1% to $48.6 billion, although growth could be boosted substantially over the next few years with the rise of a few potential blockbusters in its portfolio, such as the recently-launched HIV drug Celsentri/Selzentry (maraviroc), the smoking cessation drug Chantix (varenicline) and cancer drug Sutent (sunitinib).

Cash for purchases
Whether these drugs alone will be powerful enough to overcome the loss of Lipitor remains to be seen, but, with $25 million reportedly in its back pocket, Pfizer has enough cash to try to secure growth by buying in new technologies or companies such as Shire.

Shire is widely considered to be one of the UK’s most successful pharmaceutical groups, and its in-licensing focused strategy has helped it build a solid menu of successful products, such as the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder drug Adderall XR (mixed amphetamine salts), which pulled in fourth-quarter sales of $277.7 million, and the Hunter Syndrome therapy Elaprase (idursulfase), which made $57.4 million for the period.

The group could certainly prove to be an attractive target for Pfizer, but both parties are currently declining to comment on the matter.