By Isabell Witt
LONDON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Private equity owner Apax will hand over British medical courier Marken to lenders this week, losing 600 million pounds ($972 million) of the investment it made in the company three years ago, people close to the process said.
The lenders will take over the business in a so-called pre-pack administration process - a pre-arranged debt restructuring through the UK court - which is expected to take place by Friday.
Marken, which ships vaccines and blood from clinical trials around the world, has struggled with too much debt and a drop in earnings, the people said, amid competition from other logistics groups and lower levels of research and development spending by large pharma groups.
Apax declined to comment.
An attempt to sell the business to an unnamed U.S. firm failed over the summer due to difficulties putting new financing in place and lenders to Marken, including Lloyds Banking Group , decided to take it over instead.
After a turnaround of the business, the lenders will try again to sell it in the next two to four years, the people added.
Apax bought Marken in December 2009 for almost 1 billion pounds in what was one of the first buyouts completed after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
The UK-headquartered private equity firm was viewed as having overpaid for the business after making a last-minute all-equity bid for it, trumping a bid by Hellman & Friedman.
The buyout was later backed by a 365 million pounds debt package, solely underwritten by Lloyds, according to Thomson Reuters LPC data. It was the largest private equity debt deal and the largest sole underwriting by a bank in 2009.
Lenders are not taking a haircut on the existing debt, but its two loan facilities will be rolled into one tranche with no debt repayments until maturity to take away the pressure of cash going out of the company.
Lenders are also putting in place a new 25 million pound loan ranking senior to the existing debt for working capital purposes.