FRANKFURT Merck KGaA MRCD.DE would not bid for ImClone Systems Inc IMCL.O on its own, but may consider taking part in a potential approach for the U.S. drugmaker, Merck's Chief Executive Karl-Ludwig Kley said.
"We are not the white knight ... but if anyone contacts us to ask whether we want to participate, we will certainly listen carefully and I don't rule out us taking part," Kley said late on Monday at an event organized by the International Club of Frankfurt Business Journalists.
Merck would not move to join a bidding tussle for ImClone but any potential buyer could benefit from Merck's expertise in ImClone's cancer drug Erbitux, the CEO said.
ImClone's Chairman Carl Icahn has said another suitor has outbid Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's (BMY.N) $62-a-share offer for the U.S. biotech company, subject to due diligence.
ImClone said on Monday it would find out by the end of Wednesday whether a big pharmaceuticals company would make a rival offer. Bristol-Myers, which cooperates with ImClone on cancer drug Erbitux, has offered to acquire the 83 percent of the biotech company it does not already own.
Germany's Merck bought the development and marketing rights to Erbitux outside the United States from ImClone 10 years ago.
"Anyone who wants to take Erbitux further would be well advised to talk to us," Kley said in comments embargoed until Tuesday.
The drug is Merck's most promising treatment and is its second-best selling drug after Rebif, for multiple sclerosis.
Merck's liquid-crystals business had so far not suffered noticeably from the effects of the U.S. financial crisis, Kley also said.
The market for liquid-crystals, used in TV, computer and mobile phone screens, would grow in volume for at least another 10 years, even though it may not rise in value over that time span, he added.
He reiterated the company's guidance for a operating margin at the liquid crystals unit, Merck's biggest profit driver, of 47 percent to 52 percent this year.
"It's unrealistic to assume that a margin in an industrial business could stay above 50 percent in the long run. It's better to rather anticipate something in the 40s," Kley said.
Shares in Merck dropped 2.4 percent to 75.06 euros by 7:43 a.m. EDT, still faring better than the German benchmark DAX index, which slid 4.2 percent.
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by David Holmes)