Private equity funds eye Sigma-Tau stake

Even before the death of its founder Claudio Cavazza in June, Italian drugmaker Sigma-Tau was mulling its strategic options. Now, sources tell Bloomberg the Cavazza family is leaning toward selling a stake in the company, perhaps to private equity investors. The whole company may go on the block, but that's less likely, the sources said.

Days before Cavazza's death, reports emerged that his brother Paolo had hired Credit Suisse to advise him on a possible sale of his 38% share of the company. Claudio was considering offloading part of his 57% stake as well, putting as much as 49% of the company in play. It's not clear now just how much of a stake the family would be willing to sell, but Bloomberg's sources say a deal under consideration would value the company at €1 billion, or about $1.4 billion.

Among the PE players who've reportedly looked at the deal is Permira Advisers, which set up a healthcare team in 2008 to seek out investments in diagnostics, medical technology, contract manufacturing and yes, specialty pharma. Another is Ares Life Sciences, an investment vehicle backed by Ernesto Bertarelli, the Swiss-Italian billionaire who ran Serono until its 2007 sale to Merck KGaA in 2007.

Founded in 1957, Sigma-Tau reported sales of €673 million in 2010, or almost $1 billion. It snapped up Enzon Pharmaceuticals' specialty pharma unit last year for $300 million, acquiring several injectable drugs in the process, such as the leukemia treatment Oncaspar and the immunological drug Adagen, Bloomberg reports. It's in the process of developing a stable of drugs for rare diseases.

- read the Bloomberg story