Novartis has said it will not make an offer to buy Swiss vaccine specialist Berna Biotech, clearing the way for Dutch biotech Crucell to complete its proposed merger with the company.

Novartis is in the process of creating a specialist vaccines unit on the back of its proposed acquisition of US firm Chiron, and said last month it was considering an offer for Berna Biotech. But in a statement released this morning it said: “after completion of due diligence and an assessment of the potential benefits and risks of an acquisition, Novartis has decided not to make an offer.”

Berna Biotech’s management has already endorsed Crucell’s $450 million dollar bid and is gearing up for a shareholder meeting tomorrow at which it will formally vote on the offer. The Dutch firm has its own pipeline of vaccine candidates, as well as a cell line technology that is already widely used to make biologic drugs and could improve and speed up the production of vaccines.

For its part, Berna Biotech has vaccines for flu, typhoid and hepatitis A and B on the market, a follow-up hep B candidate filed for approval, and vaccines for yellow fever and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Phase III testing.

Crucell maintains that its offer will create a vaccine company that is much better equipped to compete with the Big Pharma players in this sector, such as Novartis/Chiron, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Merck & Co.

Meanwhile, Novartis is rumoured to be interested in making a bid for Swiss biotechnology concern Serono, which put itself up for sale in November 2005.