Sanofi Said to Mull Counterbid for Actelion Amid J&J Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Sanofi is considering a counterbid for Actelion Ltd., potentially challenging a move by U.S. health-care giant Johnson & Johnson to acquire Europe’s largest biotechnology firm, people familiar with the matter said.

The French drugmaker is working with advisers as it weighs its options, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. Sanofi, which has informally made its interest known to Switzerland’s Actelion, hasn’t made a final decision on whether to proceed with a bid, the people said.

J&J aims to reach a deal before Christmas as the two sides negotiate the price and structure of a potential deal, according to two people familiar with the matter. The talks are progressing after the U.S. drugmaker increased its offer, people familiar with the matter said on Friday, ratcheting up pressure on potential counterbidders to move quickly. J&J raised its bid above $250 a share, a person said last week, which would value Actelion at more than $27 billion.

In addition to Sanofi, advisers seeking work with prospective buyers have reached out to other drugmakers, including Roche Holding AG of Switzerland and Pfizer Inc., to gauge potential interest in bidding for Actelion, the people said. It couldn’t be determined whether they showed any interest.

Sanofi shares fell 1.6 percent to 74.88 euros at 1:24 p.m. in Paris trading after earlier dropping as much as 2.4 percent, the biggest intraday decline since August. Actelion surged 2.2 percent to 207.20 Swiss francs in Zurich after earlier gaining as much as 5.6 percent.

Novartis AG CEO Joe Jimenez ruled out a counterbid for Actelion in an interview with SonntagsBlick newspaper published Sunday, saying the Swiss drugmaker is focused on acquisitions of less than $5 billion.

Representatives for Roche, Pfizer, Paris-based Sanofi and Allschwil, Switzerland-based Actelion declined to comment.

CEO’s Stance

Any deal will hinge on winning over the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder, Jean-Paul Clozel. Clozel, 61, is one of the company’s largest shareholders and has previously said he wants Actelion to remain independent. Still, the company may be more open to entertaining a sale at a sufficient premium, a person familiar with the deliberations had said. There’s no guarantee a deal will be reached and talks could still fall apart.

Sanofi lost out on a deal to buy Medivation Inc. earlier this year, giving rival Pfizer a blockbuster prostate-cancer treatment, Xtandi. Pfizer’s offer valued Medivation at about $14 billion. Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Olivier Brandicourt said that while he was disappointed, the company would be ready to “act rather swiftly,” if a new target arose.