The Bertarelli family, owners of Europe’s largest biotechnology company, Serono, look set to become very wealthy indeed after confirming yesterday that the firm has appointed brokerage house Goldman Sachs to explore “strategic alternatives.”

The news was broken by the Wall Street Journal, which said the firm was touting its wares and looking for either a buyer or merger partner, with fellow Swiss firm Novartis spotlighted as the most likely candidate, although Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis have also been mentioned [[08/11/05g]]. However, whether Novartis will want to make another large purchase after recently inking a deal to acquire Chiron remains to be seen: Serono is valued at around $13 billion and is 62% owned by the founding Bertarelli family [[31/10/05a]].

In its brief statement, Serono said: “There can be no assurances that any transaction will be consummated. The company has no further comment.”

Shares in the biotechnology firm, which markets the phenomenally successful multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1b) but has seen criticisms of a weak pipeline after suffering several product fallouts, rose almost 10% on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday to close at $17.97.

- Meanwhile, Serono has unveiled new data showing patients being treated with Rebif do not experience an altered immune response to influenza vaccination, and stressed that no new safety concerns were witnessed. The news is important as many MS patients feel they cannot be vaccinated over concerns that it may trigger an overreaction of the immune system and relapse.