November 12, 2009 / 7:44 AM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-Hikma could sign JV in 3 months, sees sales pick up

* Is in talks with about three ‘top 10’ pharma firms over JV

* May also sign $50 mln-$300 mln acquisition in four months

* Sales pick up after slow Q3

* Shares broadly flat, off lows

(Recasts, adds company comments, share price)

By Ben Deighton

LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Middle East and North Africa-focused drug firm Hikma (HIK.L) said it could sign a joint venture with a top pharmaceutical company within three months, and added sales had improved after a slow third quarter.

“It will be specific for specific countries where we feel we could benefit each other... for example we are looking at maybe joint venturing in Iraq,” Chief Executive Said Darwazah told Reuters on Thursday.

He said that the Jordan-based company was in talks with about three of the world’s top ten pharmaceutical companies, and the deals they are discussing include joint ventures as well as licensing agreements.

It comes after executives at top drug firms such as Pfizer (PFE.N), Novartis NOVN.VX and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) told a Reuters summit they were looking for growth opportunities in emerging markets, where there has been an increase in Western style illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. [ID:nN11373020]

Darwazah said that a joint venture deal might include joint manufacturing in countries such as Syria or Kazakhstan as well as Iraq, although he would not say which disease areas they were looking at.

He added that the company was also in talks with about four companies over an acquisition of between $50 million and $300 million, and that there could be an announcement within four months.

Earlier Hikma scaled back its full-year predictions for sales growth following a slowdown in the third quarter, but added it was still on track to meet its profit target as its margin has improved.

In the third quarter it was hit by Ramadan and Eid falling in September, as well as currency fluctuations and government caps on imports in Algeria, although it said sales have now picked up.

It predicted sales for the full year would increase by 13 percent at constant currency, slightly lower than the 15 percent it was expecting at its half year earnings, but predicted a full-year gross margin of around 46 percent, up from 44 percent in 2008.

Shares in the company were largely flat, after having fallen by as much as 1.8 percent in early trades. (Editing by Mike Nesbit)

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