Serum Chairman Says Company Held Early Merger Talks With Cipla

Serum Institute of India Ltd., Asia’s largest vaccine maker, held preliminary discussions with generic drugmaker Cipla Ltd. on a merger, Chairman Cyrus Poonawalla said.

While Serum could never go up for sale, there is a small chance that it could merge with a company like Cipla, Poonawalla told CNBC-TV18 in a broadcast interview. Asked whether there there had been talks with Cipla, Poonawalla said there had been “a little bit,” according to a video clip posted on the television channel’s website.

Founded in 1935 by scientist Khwaja Abdul Hamied, Cipla is India’s third-largest pharmaceutical company by market value and made its name selling generic HIV treatments in Africa. The company has made acquisitions in the last two years in Uganda, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Privately held Serum makes vaccines injected into 65 percent of the world’s children, and is targeting making copies of newer vaccines including Merck & Co.’s Gardasil.

The companies struck a distribution agreement for affordable pediatric vaccines in Europe, Cipla said in a statement on Nov. 20.

“That’s a first start,” Poonawalla said in the TV interview. “It’s just the beginning. We have to first see how our initial partnership bears fruit -- if it moves the right direction, maybe we will take it to the next stage.”

Poonawalla didn’t respond to an e-mail and a call to his office seeking comment. Cipla’s Chairman Yusuf Hamied in an interview with Bloomberg News declined to comment on whether there have been merger talks between the companies.

“We are definitely going to have a partnership -- he is too big, and we are too big,” Hamied said, referring to Poonawalla’s Serum. “So the question is, can we work together? We have a very good marketing team, they have a very good production team. The question is, can we work together closely?”

In an e-mailed statement, Cipla said both companies are committed to a long-term partnership for the distribution of vaccines in Europe. Cipla shares gained as much as 3.1 percent in Mumbai today and were 1.8 percent higher at 674.60 rupees at 11:30 a.m. local time.

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