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Novartis still keen on merger with Roche

Daniel Vasella sees advantages to a merger with Roche (Novartis)

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis has not given up its goal of closer cooperation with rival Roche, despite Roche's insistence that there will be no merger.

Novartis boss Daniel Vasella said closer ties made “a lot of sense”.

He was speaking after Roche chief executive Franz Humer appeared to quash speculation of an imminent merger once and for all.

“The subject is off the table,” Humer told the Swiss Sunday paper, SonntagsZeitung.

No discussion

However, Vasella conceded that the climate was not yet right for merger discussions.

“The issue is deadlocked,” said Vasella. “There is no discussion taking place and it is not my fault if the atmosphere is frosty.”

Talk of a mega-merger between the two Basel-based firms began last year after Novartis increased its voting stake in Roche to over 21 per cent.

But while Novartis has stressed the advantages of a union, Roche has repeatedly said it has no interest in allying itself with its rival.

Vasella said he had no regrets about the investment in Roche. “Contrary to what is often claimed, this was not a bad investment, financially speaking.”

Roche and Novartis make most of their sales from prescription drugs.

Vasella argues that the two companies could achieve big synergies by working together, with a complementary range of pharmaceutical products and more clout in marketing and distribution.

But Humer said the board, management and family group that control most of Roche’s voting rights are firmly opposed to a merger.

“The decisive factor in healthcare, pharmacology and diagnostics is innovation, and innovation is not linked to size,” said Huber.

“For me, it’s much more important to lead a business that is flexible, quick to market and that can optimise innovations.”

Novartis increased its turnover by six per cent in the first six months and is aiming at ten per cent growth over the year as a whole.

swissinfo with agencies

Novartis owns a 21.4 per cent stake in Roche.
Sales come mainly from prescription drugs.
Novartis is looking to boost sales by 10 per cent this year.
Novartis employs 74,000 people, while Roche employs 60,000 worldwide.

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