Aventis has finally accepted a bid from its French rival Sanofi Synthélabo.

Aventis has finally accepted a bid from its French rival Sanofi Synth?labo, ending months of wrangling between the two companies and creating the world’s third largest pharmaceutical firm, after Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.

Aventis had for some time fought off a €45bn hostile bid from Sanofi, despite the fact that the French government had openly supported the takeover. The government had discouraged a ’white knight’ bid from Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis, openly displaying its enthusiasm for a French national pharmaceutical champion. It also stressed the need for France to guarantee access to vaccines in the event of a terrorist attack.

Novartis had done a feasibility study and concluded that a business case for a merger was viable. The company made it clear, however, that it would only enter negotiations if the French government abandoned its ’negative attitude’ and assumed a neutral position. Novartis started negotiations with Aventis but decided not to submit a bid ’following Aventis’ decision to engage in discussions with Sanofi, at the strong intervention of the French government’.

Aventis finally accepted a ’substantially improved offer’ from Sanofi and the company’s supervisory board recommended the offer to Aventis shareholders.

Under the revised terms, Sanofi valued each Aventis share at € 68.93, to give a stock and cash bid of € 51bn. The new group will be called Sanofi -Aventis, and will be headed by Jean-Fran?ois Dehecq, Sanofi’s CEO. To ensure the takeover goes ahead smoothly, Sanofi has agreed to the Federal Trade Commission terms to divest two of its drugs, Arixtra and Fraxiparine, to GlaxoSmithKline.

Meanwhile, Aventis has suffered a minor setback after the US drug regulator published a negative opinion of trial results of an advanced melanoma treatment that the company has developed with a small US firm called Genta. The two companies had presented results of their Phase III trial of a drug called Genasense (G3139) used in combination with an existing drug called diacarbazine (DTIC), to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee said that the results failed to demonstrate overall survival benefit of G3139 and DTIC over DTIC alone.

It described the claims of improved efficacy as questionable because of the ’open-label nature of study, missing data, and differences in assessment interval between the two treatment groups’.

Raymond Warrell, Genta’s chairman and CEO, said that the companies remain committed to the ongoing development of the melanoma treatment and that they ’will work closely with the FDA to determine the appropriate next steps’.

Emma Davies