January 24, 2019 / 6:19 PM / 8 months ago

Italy drugmaker Zambon ready to splash out in U.S., China push

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian drugmaker Zambon is looking to China and the U.S. to grow its respiratory and nervous system portfolio and could spend more than 100 million euros ($114 million) on the right acquisition, its chief executive said.

The family-owned pharma group, famous for its mucolytic agent Fluimucil, used to treat respiratory problems, has cash enough to fund expansion plans but could contemplate a stock market listing if a big opportunity arose.

“It’s not on the table at the moment, but we could consider it if a large-scale project comes along,” Roberto Tascione told Reuters in an interview.

Tascione, a former head of Bristol-Myers Squibb in Italy, said Zambon wanted to focus increasingly on specialty care products in areas like Parkinson’s disease and severe respiratory disorders, with the U.S. a key prospect market.

He declined to say if the company was targeting assets in the U.S. where it intends to roll out a respiratory disease franchise.

“We are in advanced discussions for acquisitions in those therapeutic areas that interest us with the aim of having assets available that can be used across the world,” he said.

While the focus is the U.S., where Zambon has a respiratory drug already in advanced approval phase by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, any move would also have to drive growth in China.

“China is a complex but huge market with unmet needs in the area of respiratory diseases. We see great opportunity,” Tascione said.

In a report published last year the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute said China faced about 1.6 million premature deaths a year as a result of air pollution.

Zambon, which has its own production plant in China, last year signed a distribution deal with pharma giant Astrazeneca to distribute Fluimucil ampoules in China with a view to boosting sales of the drug 300 percent by 2023.

The company, founded by Gaetano Zambon in 1906 and still family-owned, had pharma sales of 664 million euros in 2017, with revenue in Italy accounting for one fifth of the total.

Zambon, which posted core earnings of 115 million euros in 2017, plans to invest 200 million euros in R&D in three years.

Asked if private equity had expressed interest, Tascione said he could not say, but added the company was undoubtedly an object of attention.

“The owners are fully committed to their company,” he said.

Italy has a thriving pharmaceutical sector. But it is fragmented and analysts believe it could benefit from consolidation.

In June, family-controlled Recordati was snapped up by a consortium of investment funds controlled by CVC Capital Partners in a deal worth about 3 billion euros.

(This version of the story in third paragraph quote changes would to could)

Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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