Akzo Nobel of the Netherlands has confirmed that the process has started for a listing of its pharmaceutical unit Organon and has appointed Morgan Stanley as global coordinator for the offer.

Any doubts that a direct sale of the unit may still be an option seem to have been banished with the news that Akzo has not received any concrete bids for Organon and investor pre-marketing is intended to take place during the first two weeks of March, with a management roadshow expected to start shortly after. ABN AMRO Rothschild and Morgan Stanley have been appointed joint bookrunners, while Citigroup, ING Wholesale Banking, JPMorgan and Lehman Brothers are co-lead managers.

"This marks a decisive step towards our strategic separation into two strong independent companies – Akzo Nobel, active in coatings/chemicals and Organon BioSciences, active in human and animal healthcare," said chief executive Han Wijers. He added that each of the businesses “is well positioned to grow independently and be successful in its own right” and “this staged separation process, with an IPO as the first step, best meets Akzo Nobel's long-term objectives.”

Meantime, the attractiveness of the IPO has received a boost with positive news coming out of Organon about its schizophrenia drug asenapine.

Previously seen as a vital part of the planned flotation, Organon shares sank last November as partner Pfizer decided to discontinue its role in the development of asenapine after “a commercial analysis of the compound" and will returned all rights to Organon. The news comes on the tail of an announcement by Akzo in October that the antipsychotic was facing a delay after mixed results were reported from a Phase III clinical trial.

At the time, Organon spoke of its determination to continue with the development of the drug and while announcing details of the listing, Akzo noted that last week “we had a constructive meeting with the FDA which confirmed the confidence we have in asenapine.” The firm added that “we will need to carefully evaluate the minutes of this meeting which we expect to receive in a number of weeks” and “we do not rule out the possibility of filing asenapine for both indications in the US in 2008 or possibly 2007.”

It is rumoured that Akzo has been in talks with more than five potential partners for the drug since Pfizer pulled out.