* To buy 85 pct stake in Zhejiang Tianyuan
* China and vaccines both seen as growth spots
* Privately owned Tianyuan had 2008 net sales of $25 mln
* Novartis shares fall 1 pct
(Adds analyst and company comment, further detail, shares)
By Sam Cage
ZURICH, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis NOVN.VX is buying an 85 percent stake in privately owned Chinese vaccines company Zhejiang Tianyuan for $125 million to boost its presence in the fast-growing market, it said on Wednesday.
Emerging markets are a sweet spot for companies like Novartis, which is also investing $1.25 billion in research facilities in China, while GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) has made developing countries a top priority. [ID:nL3525806]
Drugmakers’ traditional model is under threat from looming loss of patents giving them exclusivity on some big sellers, and they are keen to diversify from the core business of prescription medicines into areas like vaccines. [ID:nL9190149]
China is already the world’s third largest vaccines market, with annual sales of more than $1 billion expected to grow in the double digits thanks to the government’s commitment to healthcare, said Helvea analyst Karl-Heinz Koch.
The deal values Tianyuan at more than 5 times sales, which looks expensive but the acquisition still makes strategic sense, Koch said.
“It is important to expand vaccine presence in emerging markets and this announcement is in line with its long term commitment to China’s further economic development, health reform and improving the healthcare of the Chinese people,” he added.
The acquisition is part of Novartis’ strategic initiative to build a vaccines industry leader in China and expand its limited presence in this booming market segment, the Swiss group said.
Tianyuan offers a range of marketed vaccine products in China and research and development projects focused on preventable viral and bacterial diseases, said Novartis, whose own top-selling blood pressure drug Diovan loses patent protection in 2012.
Tianyuan had more than doubled its net sales to approximately $25 million in 2008 compared with 2006.
Novartis shares fell 1 percent to 53.00 Swiss francs by 1050 GMT, underperforming an almost flat DJ Stoxx European healthcare sector .SXDP.
“China is the most important future market,” Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella told Swiss newspaper Blick. “For a global company like Novartis the motto can only be — be there, from the start and with full power.” (Additional reporting by Sven Egenter; editing by Will Waterman and Simon Jessop)