Altana has set a deadline of this Friday for bids for its pharmaceutical operations, according to a report in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung.

Rumours surfacing last week claimed both Solvay of Belgium and Denmark’s Nycomed are in the running to make an offer for the business, along with two private equity firms, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts of the USA and Sweden’s EQT.

Altana is in the midst of a restructuring exercise aimed at separating its Altana Chemie and Altana Pharma units, with a view to securing partnership for the drugmaking arm, and earlier this year hired Goldman Sachs to help in this effort. It has set aside a one billion euro fund to invest in pharma in order to reduce its reliance on gastrointestinal drug Pantozol/Protonix (pantoprazole), which is due to start losing patent protection in 2009.

Shares in Altana, which is controlled by the Quandt family, were up a little over 1% at 46.52 euros in mid-morning trading today.

Positive data for Alvesco in asthma

Meanwhile, new data presented at the European Respiratory Society meeting have shown that a lower, once-daily dose of Altana’s inhaled corticosteroid Alvesco (ciclesonide) is as effective as rival drug fluticasone propionate, given twice-daily, when given as a maintenance therapy for asthma.

The study showed that a 160mcg daily dose of ciclesonide was as effective as fluticasone 250mcg twice-daily in maintaining symptom control in patients with stable asthma. The percentage of days without asthma symptoms was high at around 98% in both groups.

Altana is building up data for Alvesco to drive take-up of the new drug in the build-up to pantoprazole’s patent expiries. But, to date, take-up has been somewhat slow, with sales of just 7 million euros in the first half of this year despite being available in 20 countries around the world, and Altana is forecasting full-year sales of 16 million euros – a far cry from the 743 million euros the German firm made from its own sales of pantoprazole in the first half.

Altana is also working on an intranasal formulation of ciclesonide, as well as a combination product for asthma based on the steroid and the long-acting beta agonist formoterol. However, the latter project has experienced some delays as additional Phase I/II trials are needed before it can progress to a Phase III programme.