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19-11-2010 10:37:27

AstraZeneca confirms eyeing Astra Tech spin-off

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LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca (Astrazeneca PLC ORD SHS $0.25) confirmed on Friday it was considering spinning off its Astra Tech dental implants and medical devices business and had hired JP Morgan Chase (JPMorgan Chase & Co) to help with a strategic review of the unit.

A source familiar with the situation said earlier this week that the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker was looking to sell the non-core Swedish-based business for some $2 billion (1.2 billion pounds) after hiring the bank as adviser.

"AstraZeneca continues to evaluate all alternatives for value maximisation from this business and any final decision will only be made when the results of the review have concluded," the company said in a brief statement.

A company spokeswoman confirmed that a sale of the operation was one option. She declined to comment on the timing of any decision.

The expected sale of Astra Tech highlights AstraZeneca's current focus on boosting returns as the group heads into a wave of patent expiries on some of its biggest-selling medicines.

In contrast to some of its rivals -- such as GlaxoSmithKline (GlaxoSmithKline PLC), Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis -- AstraZeneca has stayed focussed on its core pharmaceuticals business rather than seeking diversification.

Shares in the company were barely changed by 9:30 a.m., down 0.3 percent at 3053.5 pence, in line with a flat Stoxx 600 European healthcare sector index .

The Astra Tech business could be of interest to U.S. companies such as privately held Biomet, Medtronic (Medtronic plc Ordinary Shares), 3M (3M Co), Danaher (Danaher Corp) and Dentsply International (Dentsply International Inc), as well as private equity firms, according to industry analysts.

Companies operating in the sector in Europe include Swiss dental implant firms Nobel Biocare and Straumann .

Astra Tech, best known for dental implants, also sells urological catheters, breathing aids and blood management systems used in surgery. It has 2,200 employees worldwide and produced revenue in 2009 of $506 million, AstraZeneca said.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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