Shire selling oncology unit to France's Servier for $2.4bn

Shire specialises in drugs for rare diseases

Shire is engaged in the development of novel therapies across various rare disease areas, including hematology, immunology, genetic diseases, neuroscience, as well as ophthalmics and oncology.

The deal suggests there is value locked up within Shire's portfolio - despite a dismal share price performance in the past two years - as its management braces for a possible $50-billion bid battle with Japan's biggest drugmaker.

The oncology unit sale is expected to close in the second or third quarter of the year and Shire boss Flemming Ornskov said the firm would "consider returning the proceeds of the sale to shareholders through a shareholder-approved share buyback after the current offer period regarding Takeda's possible offer for Shire concludes". The deal comes after Takeda expressed interest for a complete takeover, wooed analysts for support and reportedly sought loans to fund the effort - and just days ahead of the April 25 deadline for the Japanese drugmaker to make a bid.

Takeda told numerous news outlets it had no comment on the Servier-Shire deal.

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Buying Shire would be transformational for Takeda but would be a huge financial stretch, since the company is worth around $10 billion more than the Japanese group. Launched in 19 countries, Lonsurf generated €62 million ($76.8 million) in revenue during 2016-2017, according to a Servier announcement that did not furnish revenues for Pixuvri. While the oncology business has delivered high growth and profitability, we have concluded that it is not core to Shire's longer-term strategy.

Shire has always been seen as a likely takeover target and was almost bought by USA drugmaker AbbVie (LSE: 0QCV.L - news) in 2014, until US tax rule changes caused it to walk away. The Irish-headquartered pharma, which has increasingly turned its focus to rare disease in recent years, had rights to chemotherapy agent Oncaspar and pancreatic cancer treatment Onivyde, both of which are on the market.

Servier would shell out 9.2 times 2017 revenues for Shire's oncology business.

The portfolio also includes Calaspargase Pegol, which is under FDA review for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and early stage immuno-oncology pipeline collaborations.

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