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Report: Genentech, Roche Close To Deal

Genentech's board of directors is close to striking a $95-per-share deal to sell itself to cancer drug partner Roche, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Genentech's board of directors is close to striking a $95-per-share sale to cancer drug partner Roche, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Neither South San Francisco, Calif.-based Genentech nor Basel, Switzerland-based Roche would comment on the report, which cites unnamed sources familiar with the matter. The report follows Friday's increased hostile tender offer from the Swiss drugmaker.

Alexander Klauser, Roche spokesman, said, "What I can reiterate is we announced last Friday a very attractive tender offer for $93 per share. It is now up to the shareholders to decide on the offer until March 20."

On Friday, Roche increased its bid to $93 per share, or $45.7 billion, after its $86.50-per-share offer failed to pick up shareholder support. The companies have been tussling since July, when Genentech rejected a $89-per-share bid as too low.

Genentech has urged shareholders to refrain from taking action on the latest bid, though it has not yet made a formal recommendation. The current hostile tender offer is set to expire March 20, and Roche needs to get the majority of the 44 percent of Genentech it doesn't own in order to acquire the biotechnology company.

The report comes the same day as drugmaker Merck says it will pay $41.1 billion for rival Schering-Plough in the latest of a series of large acquisitions as drugmakers try to shore up fading pipelines of new products and prepare for revenue losses as drug patents expire.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Jason Zhang said shareholder turnout on the standing tender offer is what would really determine whether Roche's offer is high enough.

"If this is true, then they (Genentech) just basically concluded that there is no way they can demand a higher price," he said, commenting on the report of a potential $95-per-share deal.

Genentech in previous Securities and Exchange Commission filings said it believed it could fetch as much as $112 per share. Analysts have maintained that Genentech is worth more than Roche's initial offers, and the company spent its analyst meeting last week reaffirming its case. But the company seems to have lost some leverage because of the lagging economy and fears over a prolonged recession, Zhang said.

"If this had been a different economic environment, Genentech would have had the leverage," he said.

The goal of any buyout is the blockbuster cancer drug Avastin. It is approved to treat various types of breast, lung and colon cancers and is Genentech's best-selling product. If the latest study on early-stage colon cancer is successful, the share price will likely rise, several analysts have said, but the opposite could also hold true.

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