The end of an era is drawing closer at German group Altana after shareholders approved the sale of its pharmaceuticals business to Denmark’s Nycomed.

At an extraordinary general meeting held in Frankfurt, Altana’s chief executive Nikolaus Schweickart outlined the reasons for the sale which is due to "the significant changes in the underlying conditions within the pharmaceuticals industry." These include increasing R&D costs, "ever stricter requirements by the regulatory authorities, especially in the US," growing competition from suppliers of generics and "regimentations resulting from government health policies, particularly in Germany."

Dr Schweickart also noted that patent expiry of the gastrointestinal drug pantoprazole in its most important markets in 2009/10 "will create a product gap, and hence a gap in sales and earnings." He concluded that projects to compensate for this, "such as the acquisition of smaller businesses or the in-licensing of product candidates have not been achievable on acceptable terms."

The deal received approval from European regulators last week who had looked at the two firms’ businesses, particularly in Austria and Belgium and found only limited overlap and no significant antitrust problems. The closing of the transaction is now expected by December 29, with the transfer of the business taking place by January 1.

Altana also noted that it is to pay a higher-than-expected special dividend of 32 euros per share, using proceeds from the sale, and added that the closing price will be nearer to 4.6 billion euros than the 4.5 billion euro figure originally stated, due to an increase in working capital.