February 12, 2016 / 5:30 PM / 2 years ago

Exclusive: Intercept Pharmaceuticals explores potential sale - sources

(Reuters) - Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc (ICPT.O), a U.S. biotechnology company focused on advanced treatments for liver disease, is exploring a potential sale after receiving interest from other companies, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Intercept has been working with investment bankers to explore the prospect of a sale, the sources said this week, cautioning that there was no certainty on whether the company would decide to proceed with any transaction.

The sources asked not to be identified because the sale process is confidential. Intercept declined to comment.

Intercept’s shares rose as much as 37 percent after the news and were trading up 33 percent at $124.88 Friday afternoon in New York, giving the company a market capitalization of around $3 billion.

Share prices of the New York-based drug maker, which went public in 2012, had before Friday’s rally declined nearly 70 percent from a high in 2015 near $315, in part due to clinical data that dampened expectations for Intercept’s treatment of liver disease.

In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration postponed by three months its decision on Intercept’s marketing application for its lead drug.

The drug, Obeticholic Acid, is for the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis, a rare liver disease that results from autoimmune destruction of the bile ducts in the liver.

    Intercept’s stock has also been buffeted by broader market forces weighing on the biotechnology sector, including U.S. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s comments on drug “price gouging” and a turbulent stock market.

    Intercept’s move marks another instance of a smaller life sciences company exploring a sale to larger rivals as challenging market conditions weigh on its prospects.

    (This version of the story corrects paragraph 6 to show FDA postponement was in December, not October)

    Reporting by Carl O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley

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