AbbVie chief quietly touts his Shire deal to shareholders, signaling a new bid

AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez

After three failed bids for Ireland's Shire ($SHPG), AbbVie ($ABBV) CEO Richard Gonzalez may be considering upping his bid. But first, he's making his case to major to Shire shareholders, urging them to put the heat on the company to come to the bargaining table.

Gonzalez has pressed the issue in a series of low-profile shareholder meetings in London this week, arguing that a combined company could make the most of Shire's pipeline and product lineup, Reuters sources say. Now, he's returning to the U.S. with a July 18 deadline--to make a new bid or walk away--looming.

Shire's board said AbbVie's current $46 billion offer "fundamentally undervalued" the company. Some analysts are taking the London tour as a sign a new proposal is on the way. "I'm certainly expecting a revised offer-- they are not going to come to the shareholders like this and then disappear," Cenkos Securities analyst Navid Malik told the news service.

But as the Financial Times reports, AbbVie wants a peek at Shire's books before it ups its bid. And that's a tall order: Under U.K. takeover rules, if Shire opens its books up for AbbVie, it will have to do the same for any other suitors that come calling, a source told the paper.

Shire CEO Flemming Ornskov

Either way, the "ball is firmly in AbbVie's court" now, Shire told the FT. "Shire has made its position very clear," it said.

In doing so, CEO Flemming Ornskov has made his own rounds, touting an AbbVie-free future that includes more-than-doubled sales of $10 billion by 2020. In fact, Shire could be on its way there by now had AbbVie not come into the picture, he says. Shire has to wait until that July 18 deadline to pursue any of its own deals that would be worth more than 10% of its market cap--such as a potential offer for NPS Pharma ($NPSP), pegged as a potential target in recent media reports.

"I have been significantly in the market for assets that would strengthen our growth and strengthen our pipeline," Ornskov told The Wall Street Journal. AbbVie's advances "stopped us in our tracks."

- get more from Reuters
- see the FT story (reg. req.)

Special Reports:  Pharma's top 10 M&A deals of 2013 - Shire/ViroPharma | 15 Highest-Paid Biopharma CEOs of 2013 - Richard Gonzalez - AbbVie