Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis has said it is ready to start negotiations on a counter-offer for the Franco-German drugmaker, Aventis.
But the Basel-based firm said such a move was conditional on Aventis giving it the green light, and the French government not getting involved.
Aventis is fighting off a hostile takeover offer from France’s Sanofi-Synthélabo currently worth around €46.2 billion (SFr71.7 billion).
Novartis said in a statement on Tuesday that it had completed a feasibility study on a possible tie-up with Aventis, and had concluded that a deal would make financial sense.
However, the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceuticals group stated that it had not yet started negotiations or discussed a price.
“Although the business case looks viable, the negative attitude of the French government has influenced Novartis’s consideration to a point that it will only enter into a negotiation phase if formally invited by the Aventis supervisory board and if the French government assumed a neutral position,” said Novartis.
Novartis said one potential plan would be to spin off non-core Aventis and Novartis products into a new entity that would preserve jobs, specifically in France and Germany.
This would create a pharmaceutical company with product development, licensing and commercial operations, including manufacturing.
Tuesday’s warning to Paris to keep its distance follows comments last week by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
Raffarin said he was opposed to any deal that was against the “national interest”.
“The creation of a large European pharmaceutical group firmly anchored and founded on Franco-German relations is strategically important for France,” he said.
Observers interpreted his comments as an invitation for Aventis and Sanofi to tie the knot and shut out any interested third party.
But the French government said on Tuesday it had no comment to make on Novartis’s statement.
Since February there has been much speculation that a “white knight” would ride to the rescue of Aventis. Three possible suitors have been regularly cited: Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.
swissinfo with agencies
A deal between Aventis and Novartis would create the world’s second-biggest drug company.
Novartis stock rose sharply after the statement by almost 2% to SFr53.10.
Novartis employs 78,500 people in 140 countries.
The group posted a net profit of $5.02 billion in 2003 on sales of $16.02 billion.
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