It has been revealed that Wyeth is in talks to buy the Dutch vaccine maker Crucell on the day that the former firm’s chief executive stated that acquisitions are on the agenda.

Crucell issued a statement confirming that it is in “friendly discussions with Wyeth that may lead to a combination of the two companies”. The Leiden-based firm went on to stress that talks are at “a preliminary stage and there is no certainty that they will result in a transaction”.

Wyeth, which did not comment, already collaborates with Crucell and the Leiden-based group recently posted its first-ever quarterly profit. Its best-selling product is five-shots-in-one Quinvaxem vaccine (for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b) and travel vaccines, notably Epaxal, the only aluminium-free hepatitis A jab and Dukoral, the only oral vaccine against diarrhoea caused by cholera and enterotoxigenic E.coli.

The value of Crucell is being put at around $1.3-$1.4 billion and would make a good strategic fit with Wyeth, a strong player in the vaccines market. Its pneumococcal disease vaccine Prevnar is a very big earner and had third-quarter sales of $717 million, up 13%.

News of the talks with Crucell came as Wyeth chief executive Bernard Poussot told attendees at the Goldman Sachs Healthcare CEOs Unscripted Conference in New York that the company's strong cash position could enable it to make new biotech acquisitions. The firm has $14 billion in cash and is interested in acquiring "attractive technologies", he said, adding that “our goal is to deliver reliable and sustainable growth over the years".

To achieve that, Mr Poussot went on to say that “our best strategy is to build one of the most global diversified biopharmaceutical companies."