US biotechnology firm ImClone says it has hired financial advisor Lazard to look at the possible sale or merger of the company, currently thought to be worth around $3 billion.

One contender to acquire the firm could be Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has a longstanding collaboration with ImClone on the colorectal cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab). But market watchers suggest that this avenue has been explored, with no offer forthcoming, so ImClone has put itself on the public block.

B-MS already owns 17% of ImClone, and books a little over 60% of the US revenues for Erbitux, which swelled 58% during 2005 to $413 million. But it does not own the rights to Erbitux outside the USA so may be reluctant to stump up for the whole of ImClone, particularly as Erbitux is facing imminent competition from Abgenix and Amgen’s panitumumab.

ImClone also announced that it has appointed board director Joseph Fischer as an interim chief executive, after Philip Frost stepped down to resume his post as chief scientific officer. Fischer is the third CEO for the firm since Daniel Lynch resigned in November 2005.

Meanwhile, ImClone saw its fourth-quarter results swing to a profit as its performance was lifted by the absence of substantial litigation charges booked during the year-earlier period.

The group generated net income of $13 million, or $0.15 per share, versus a loss of $13 million, or $0.16 a share, for the like, year-earlier quarter, which was hit by a $55 million settlement charge in relation to two insider trading lawsuits over its Erbitux.

On the down side, sales dropped 9% to $98 million, as plummeting revenue from manufacturing and collaborative agreements masked a significant leap in Erbitux royalties, which were up 44% at $53 million.

For the full year, ImClone reported a 14% fall in net income to $99 million, or $1.14 per share, and a 2% dip in sales to $383 million.