A Dutch newspaper has claimed that Akzo Nobel is holding talks with private equity companies with a view to selling off its pharmaceuticals unit Organon rather than proceeding with a previously-announced initial public offering.

The paper, Het Financieele Dagblad, which cites anonymous sources, says the company is in discussions with at least two private equity consortia over the sale of the unit. The first mentioned involves KKR, Warburg Pincus and CVC, while the second is made up of Blackstone, Bain Capital, Alpinvest, Apax and TPG and the newspaper claims Akzo is requesting that bids be submitted in the next few weeks.

Fresh discussion as to whether Akzo would continue down the IPO route resurfaced at the end of November after Pfizer's decision to discontinue its role in the development of asenapine, a new schizophrenia drug which is seen as a vital part of any flotation. At the time, chief executive Toon Wilderbeek said the firm remains "fully committed" to the IPO process of Organon and the company has not stated anything particular in public to suggest otherwise, merely noting that it is, as always, considering all options.

Analysts believe that a straightforward sale of Organon would be worth 9-10 billion euros, rather more than the amount any IPO would bring in. One of the unit's future drivers of growth could be the new sleep drug Org 50081, a serotonin-2 blocker for the treatment of insomnia, which has moved into Phase III clinical development and appears to have no addictive properties.