Novartis CEO: 'The bigger the target, the higher the premium'

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis NOVN.S Chief Executive Joe Jimenez said prices for large acquisitions are looking expensive, pushing the company to instead seek smaller targets with early-stage drugs that the Swiss pharmaceutical group hopes will supplement its pipeline.

There is no change to Novartis’s existing strategy of seeking takeovers in the $2 billion to $5 billion range, Jimenez said after reporting results on Wednesday, although acquisitions lately have been smaller.

In the fourth quarter, for instance, Novartis made several transactions, including buying U.S.-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals in a deal worth up to $665 million, expanding its pipeline of medicines to combat blood diseases.

However, larger prospective purchases carry a disproportionately bigger price tag, Jimenez said.

“We look at everything, the bigger the target the higher the premium seems to be right now,” Jimenez said on the sidelines of the company’s annual results news conference.

“We have gone upstream, and, if you heard, in the fourth quarter we announced four transactions that were quite early-stage, but they supplement the pipelines of our innovative medicines divisions.”

Jimenez did not give an update on Novartis's roughly $13 billion stake in Roche RO.SROG.S, which the company has said it could sell without a premium.

However, earlier this month at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Jimenez said in an interview he was in no rush to unload shares in his cross-town rival.

The shareholding that amounts to a third of Roche’s voting rights continues to pad Novartis’s profits, adding $464 million to its bottom line in 2016.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Greg Mahlich