* Celltrion founder to seek multinational to buy his interests in group
* Shares up nearly 12 pct at one point on hope for EU approval for key drug
* No talks yet with potential buyer for KOSDAQ market’s most valuable firm (Adds background, comments)
SEOUL, April 16 (Reuters) - The president of South Korea’s Celltrion Inc said he will seek a buyer among multinational drug makers for his controlling interest in the biotechnology company, aiming to bolster its global prospects.
The announcement, which sent Celltrion’s shares up nearly 12 percent at one point, bolstered confidence that the company would soon get European Union approval for its key drug Remsima, a generic version of Merck & Co’s arthritis drug Remicade.
Celltrion President Seo Jung-jin said on Tuesday that he would sell his stakes in the holding vehicle for the biotechnology company he founded in 2002 and its affiliates.
“The brand recognition, sales network and capital of a multinational pharmaceutical company will help (Celltrion’s) quest for global markets,” he told a news conference.
Seo said the sale would take place after Remsima is approved for sale in the European Union, which he expects in May or June.
The company has not yet started talks with a potential buyer, although it received expressions of interest in the past, he added.
“The shares are rallying as investors now know that the company sees EU approval for its drug as a matter of time,” said Kim Hye-rim, a sector analyst at Hyundai Securities.
“However, whether or not the sale is a good thing overall remains to be seen, as we need more information about the conditions of the sale, and the buyer.”
Celltrion is the biggest and most profitable firm in the country’s second-tier KOSDAQ share market, with a market capitalisation of $4.2 billion.
The company has attracted interest from several big-name investors, receiving funding from Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pvt, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s One Equity Partners and Japan’s Orix Corp.
Other drugs in its pipeline include generics of Roche Holding AG’s cancer drugs Rituxian and Herceptin.
In mid-afternoon trade, Celltrion’s shares were up 5.4 percent at 49,900 won, after rising to a nearly two-week high of 53,000 won. (Reporting by Somang Yang and Miyoung Kim; Editing by Edmund Klamann)