Bon voyage to the flu vaccine business for Abbott?

Abbott considers sales of influenza vaccine portion of Solvay, which it acquired late last year

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ABBOTT PARK, Ill.—In the pharma and biotech markets, of course, it's not always just a clean merger situation when a company makes an acquisition. Instead, it's often a reshuffling, or a mix-and-match, or something along those lines, and that seems to be the situation now with Abbott and its vaccine business that is part of Belgian drugmaker Solvay Pharmaceuticals.

Abbott had acquired Solvay in September 2009 for $6.6 billion in cash, and now it reportedly wants to sell the flu vaccine unit, which has business exposure in eastern Europe, with an unnamed woman from Abbott who is close to the situation telling the Wall Street Journal recently, "We are now exploring the option to potentially sell Solvay's vaccine business," and adding that Abbott had put the business unit an the auction block last week, sending marketing materials to a handful of large healthcare companies.

The Journal predicted that Big Pharma will likely be interested in the business unit, which brought in about 200 million euros in sales this year, and the sale of the business reportedly could net Abbott somewhere between $614 million and $619 million ultimately.

Even if the company does sell this vaccine unit, Abbott wouldn't be losing the pharmaceutical value of  its Solvay acquisition. As Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel told DOTmed News,  "Solvay Pharmaceuticals is much broader. The vaccine unit is just a piece of the business."

Analyst Group Datamonitor in New York expressed no surprise about the potential sale of the unit as it released its expert commentary on the situation, saying that the "company is a niche player without critical mass in the increasingly competitive seasonal flu vaccine market."

"The most attractive selling point is Abbott's established position in the lucrative Russian influenza vaccine market through its alliance with Petrovax Pharm, which could gain a potential buyer easy access to one of the key emerging markets for vaccines," Datamonitor reports. "Another interesting proposition is Abbott's cell-based manufacturing technology; however, the company has lost its initial advantage in this segment through development delays and the approval of competitive products in this segment such as Novartis' Optaflu. Considering the low tolerance of the increasingly competitive influenza vaccines market for high-priced vaccines, Datamonitor has general doubts regarding the commercial potential of cell-based seasonal influenza vaccines."

Datamonitor has thrown out the name GlaxoSmithKline as one potentially interested party in the sale of the flu vaccine business, noting that GSK is already successfully marketing its influenza portfolio in several Asian countries and is looking to further increase its market footprint in vaccines, so it might see this as opportunity to gain entry into the Russian market.

"In addition, Abbott's late-stage cell-based program may be interesting for GSK, which is lagging behind other flu vaccine players with regards to cell-based manufacturing," Datamonitor speculates. "Another scenario could see a smaller player such as AstraZeneca/MedImmune combine Abbott's flu business with their own influenza unit to achieve a critical mass in the sector, which is dominated by large vaccine providers."

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