Serono is reported to be looking for a buyer or merger partner, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper said that the Swiss biotechnology company had contracted Goldman Sachs to look for potential candidates that are able to meet the likely hefty price tag for Serono – which is currently valued at around $13 billion and is 62% owned by the founding Bertarelli family.

The rumour mill has already ground out the name of Novartis as a possible suitor for Serono, although Novartis is already in the throes of a merger with Chiron and has also been linked to Altana, despite assurances by the latter that it has no plans to sell off its pharma business [[31/10/05a]] [[02/11/05c]]. Speculators have also named Pfizer as a possible partner.

Serono is still very reliant on its multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a), and posted flat sales in the last quarter despite a strong showing by this product [[25/10/05c]]. The firm’s established fertility business is slowing, and newer products – notably psoriasis drug Raptiva (efalizumab) – have not grown as fast as hoped.

The firm also suffered a blow earlier this year when it had to drop two products in Phase III testing – onercept for psoriasis and Canvaxin for melanoma [[06/04/05b]], although it has an oral MS drug, cladribine, and two antibody treatments for cancer (adecatumumab and zanolimumab) in Phase III testing.