Actelion board nominees deny sale is main aim

ZURICH (Reuters) – A group of prospective Actelion board members denied speculation they planned to prepare Europe’s biggest biotech for sale and said they wanted instead to overhaul it.

Six pharmaceutical executives and M&A experts nominated by activist hedge fund Elliott last month said Actelion (ATLN.XV: Quote, Profile, Research) was pursuing a risky strategy by relying on macitentan, a successor to its $1.8 billion-a-year drug Tracleer which treats a rare but deadly lung disorder.

“The company has stated that our primary objective is to seek a sale of the company,” the six said in a letter to shareholders. “This is completely untrue.”

“We…are independent of Elliott…if elected we would represent all shareholders, and…our stated intention is to de-risk the company through a rigorous assessment of the options open to Actelion,” they said.

The group said that while a sale was one option they would consider, they would also pursue more disciplined capital allocation and changing the risk management and organizational structure of the firm.

The board of Actelion urged shareholders last week to reject what it called an ill-conceived plan by Elliott Advisors to install the six new board members and prepare the way for a sale.

The New York-based fund has pushed the Swiss group to consider putting itself up for sale after a spate of product setbacks. It is also calling for founder Jean-Paul Clozel to step down from the board but remain as chief executive.

Pressure from Elliott, which owns nearly 6 percent of the $7 billion company, has been mounting ahead of the AGM on May 5 — but the company recently won support from another significant shareholder, Rudolf Maag, who holds 4.2 percent.

Actelion, which has hired Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse to advise it, is determined to stay independent, though some analysts say it could be the next pharma takeover target after Sanofi-Aventis’s (SASY.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) $20 billion-plus acquisition of Genzyme (GENZ.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson, editing by Sophie Walker)

Actelion board nominees deny sale is main aim