(Adds details on Cardiolite, company strategies, byline)
By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N) on Monday said it plans to sell its medical imaging business for $525 million to a private equity group as part of an effort to focus on its higher-profit prescription medicines.
Bristol-Myers said it agreed to sell the unit to Avista Capital Partners and aims to complete the all-cash transaction by the end of January.
Bristol-Myers announced plans said earlier this month to sell the unit, which had sales of $658 million in 2006 from a small number of products.
The biggest product, Cardiolite, is an injected substance that shows blood flow inside the heart during exercise and rest. Cardiolite loses U.S. patent protection in late January, although Bristol has asked for an extension that would protect the product from generic competition through the end of July, a company spokesman said.
Cardiolite is widely used in so-called stress tests, which allow doctors to find areas of the heart muscle that do not get enough blood supply. The tests can also show areas that have been harmed after heart attacks. Cardiolite is also used for other purposes, including to show the presence and size of breast tumors.
The medical imaging unit’s second-biggest product is Definity, an injectable imaging agent used to improve ultrasound images, Bristol-Myers said.
Bristol-Myers, whose $17.9 billion in 2006 sales was overwhelmingly from its array of prescription drugs, said it is continuing to explore “strategic options” for its nutritionals business and its Convatec wound-healing business.
The New York-based company, whose drugs include blood clot preventer Plavix and schizophrenia treatment Abilify, on Dec. 5 predicted its earnings will grow at least 15 percent annually through 2010.
The strong results will be due in part to a planned major restructuring that will eliminate 10 percent of its work force and close more than half its factories over the next three years, Bristol-Myers said.
Company officials have said cash from sale of the medical imaging business, and potentially from its nutritionals and Convatec units, would be plowed into its pharmaceuticals business and help finance costly trials of a new generation of biotechnology drugs.
Bristol-Myers shares slipped 9 cents to $27.99 in early morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, amid a moderate downturn for the drug sector. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, editing by Derek Caney)