Serono’s shareholders yesterday backed an increase in share capital to fund acquisitions, as the company marches on its new quest to grow the business. In a conference call last week, chief executive Ernesto Bertarelli revealed it had slapped an enticing $10 billion on the table to fund a purchase, after abandoning an earlier hope of finding a suitor, with one of the primary targets believed to be fellow Swiss biotechnology company Actelion.

"Most likely we are going to be looking at the biotech space for acquisitions, but are not excluding small molecules," Mr Bertarelli added.

As a result of the shareholders’ meeting, Serono can now issue up to 7.6 million new bearer shares worth 25 Swiss francs each, up to April 2008. At current market value, this represents $5 billion. Serono – which needs to stock up its product pipeline and reduce its dependency on the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) - said it would fund a deal up to the value of $10 billion using shares and raising cash, depending on the transaction, without the Bertarelli family losing control of the company.