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Roche, Teva and AstraZeneca are all said to be in the mix to buy Celltrion

Stock of South Korean biosimilar expert jumps on buyout buzz
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Biologic drugs are becoming increasingly important in pharma portfolios, and South Korea's Celltrion is all about biologics. So it is no wonder if there is a behind-the-scenes bidding war going on to buy control of the company.

Media have reported that Celltrion Chairman Seo Jung Jin planned to sell his $1.3 billion stake in the company and two affiliates to a "multinational" pharma company, and Celltrion has confirmed that its largest shareholder is looking to cash out. Rumors have persisted for months that AstraZeneca ($AZN) was interested. But Celltrion's shares jumped nearly 10% today, Reuters reports, after South Korean media said that Roche ($RHHBY) and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) might be in the mix as well.

The reasons AstraZeneca might want Celltrion are pretty straightforward. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot is eager for any stable sources of revenue as the company fights through patent losses. Sales of AstraZeneca's antipsychotic blockbuster Seroquel have fallen precipitously since losing patent protection, and stomach blockbuster Nexium faces the same fate this year. Celltrion could help it with development of its biologics portfolio.

Teva is in much the same situation with generic competition for its workhorse drug, multiple sclerosis treatment Copaxone, slated to begin in May. It also has struggled to get a foothold in the production of biosimilars, the generic versions of biologic drugs, a field that Celltrion is considered a leader in.

Roche might have different interests. It already has a strong portfolio of biologic drugs, some of which are the targets of biosimilars, and nearly 40 more in its pipeline. It has started an $880 million buildup of its own biologics manufacturing capacity. Buying Celltrion would give it a modern biologics facility in a prime location, as well as expertise. Asia has become a hub for biologics manufacturing, in part because the region's governments are offering deals to attract foreign interest. Some have said the trend will lead to innovations that will slash manufacturing costs for both biosimilars and new biologics.

As for Celltrion, it declined Reuters' request to comment about any of this.

- read the Reuters item

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