Actelion CEO Says New Drugs Help Argument for Independence

Jun 18, 2014 6:47 am ET

(Updates with stock price in seventh paragraph.)

June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Actelion Ltd.’s successful drug- development record has earned the Swiss company the right to stay independent after figures from a lung-medicine study beat its expectations, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Paul Clozel said.

Results from a late-stage trial of the experimental drug selexipag for pulmonary arterial hypertension were twice as good as Clozel expected, the CEO said in an interview yesterday in Basel, Switzerland. With the approval last year of Opsumit for the same disease, the Allschwil-based company has two potential blockbuster treatments for the first time.

“We’ve proven to the world that for everybody -- shareholders, patients, scientists -- it makes much more sense to remain independent,” Clozel said. “It’s a board decision, of course, but I think the board is quite confident in the management.”

The drugmaker, with a market value of 12.8 billion Swiss francs ($14.3 billion), is a perennial subject of takeover speculation. Clozel, 59, cited Opsumit’s sales potential as a reason to remain a stand-alone company when Amgen Inc. considered making a takeover offer in 2010. The following year he fought off a hedge fund that sought seats on the board and urged Actelion to consider selling itself.

Shares Triple

The stock has about tripled in the past two years, including reinvested dividends, outpacing the 60 percent gain of the Bloomberg Europe Pharmaceuticals Index. That’s a potential deterrent to would-be purchasers, Clozel said.

“If we were to have an acquisition, it would have to be at a very high price, because people would need to be convinced, like I am, that we have a fantastic future,” he said. “I never say that independence is a given. It’s something you need to earn.”

Actelion fell as much as 3.7 percent to 107 francs as of 12:46 p.m. in Zurich, retreating from yesterday’s record-high closing price of 111.10 francs. The stock jumped 22 percent over two days after the drugmaker said June 16 that selexipag reduced the risk of patients dying or experiencing a worsening of their disease by 39 percent compared with a placebo.

Clozel said he had expected the effect to be about half that much because patients in the trial were taking it on top of other medicines.

Tracleer Replacement

The company won U.S. regulatory approval in October for Opsumit, the successor to the older drug Tracleer, which accounted for 86 percent of sales last year and starts losing patent protection in November 2015.

While the success of those two treatments puts Actelion in a stronger position to make acquisitions, targets aren’t easy to find, Clozel said.

“You can be very rich, but if there’s nothing to buy it doesn’t help you,” he said. “We are able to do significant acquisitions. The problem is to find something that strategically makes sense.”

Clozel said he’s not interested in making acquisitions to ward off potential suitors.

“You should never do acquisitions as a defensive strategy, because then you can be tempted to do the wrong acquisition,” he said. “Selexipag gives us an opportunity to spend more and have more profit. I’m not saying that we should spend more, but we have the possibility if it’s needed.”