Valeant in talks to sell Salix stomach-drug unit in $10 billion deal

(Reuters) - Canada's Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc VRX.TO said on Tuesday it is in talks with third parties to sell its Salix stomach-drug business and other assets.

A sign for the headquarters of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc is seen in Laval, Quebec June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

The drugmaker did not name the potential buyers it was talking with but people familiar with the matter told Reuters Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd 4502.T was interested in Salix.

The deal could raise as much as $10 billion for the indebted drugmaker, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. Valeant acquired Salix last year for $14.5 billion.

“The discussions may or may not lead to a definitive agreement,” Valeant said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“Takeda is continuously considering various options aiming to accelerate its growth. At this point, we have nothing to

be disclosed,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Japanese bourse earlier in the day suspended trading in Takeda shares until the company released its statement. Its shares then fell as much as 4 percent, compared with a 1.8 percent dip in the benchmark Nikkei 225 index .N225.

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Valeant is working with investment bank Morgan Stanley on the sale, the people told Reuters. Another bidder may also be interested in the Salix business, they added.

Salix Pharmaceuticals makes treatments for disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.

The proceeds from the sale would likely be used to pay down the majority of Valeant’s roughly $12 billion in bank loans. Valeant, which has a market value of $6 billion, has an overall debt pile of about $30 billion.

The company’s new chief executive officer, Joseph Papa, has committed to selling around $8 billion in non-core assets to help pay down debt that it accumulated over the course of a series of large acquisitions.

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Valeant’s former chief executive Michael Pearson and ex-chief financial officer Howard Schiller are targets of a U.S. criminal probe against the drugmaker over its ties to specialty pharmacy Philidor that helped boost its sales. Schiller also served as interim CEO while Pearson was on medical leave.

The report, citing people familiar with the matter, said the case against Valeant could yield charges within weeks, or lead to a settlement with the company.

Valeant issued a statement saying it has been fully cooperating with authorities conducting the investigation.

Valeant used Philidor to overcome insurer reimbursement rejections of its medications, with Philidor resubmitting claims to insurers until they were approved, according to numerous media reports late last year. It has since severed ties with the pharmacy company.

Valeant has been struggling to revive its dwindling share price since late last year, when controversy around its drug pricing practices sent shares plunging. Its stock is down around 90 percent since its 2015 highs.

Takeda tried earlier this year to buy Salix as part of a joint bid with private equity firm TPG, a few weeks before Papa took over as CEO. But Valeant’s board rejected the offer as it wanted to give Papa time to map out a course for the company.

Takeda told Reuters in September that it was scouting for multibillion-dollar acquisitions in the United States and other overseas markets as it seeks to boost its core therapy areas, including gastrointestinal medicine.

News of the talks was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S.-listed shares of Valeant surged to close up 33.7 percent at $23.86 on Tuesday. The stock, which dipped 3 percent in extended trading, had fallen about 78 percent this year.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York, Svea Herbst in Boston and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot in New York and Tim Kelly in Tokyo.; Editing by James Dalgleish and Muralikumar Anantharaman