LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk will continue to hunt for promising assets to refill its blood products business, after losing out to Sanofi in a $4.8 billion fight for Belgian biotech company Ablynx.
"We are currently active on a couple of initiatives that hopefully will succeed and enable us to bolt activities on to our biopharma franchise in 2018," Chief Financial Officer Jesper Brandgaard told Reuters.
France's Sanofi won Ablynx and its prized experimental bleeding disorder drug caplacizumab with a 50 percent-higher bid than an previously rejected offer from Novo Nordisk.
Brandgaard said his company could not have justified the price Sanofi was paying but he remained hopeful of finding other new medicines in development at rival biotech companies.
"It's important for Novo Nordisk shareholders that we stay disciplined on the use of cash in the company," he said.
The Danish group is best known as the world's biggest insulin maker. While it enjoys good growth in its diabetes and obesity business, which accounts for around 80 percent of sales, the biopharmaceuticals division, which makes up nearly 20 percent of revenue led by haemophilia, is slowing.
It stands to lose sales particularly because of new competition from Roche's haemophilia drug Hemlibra.
"We remain focused on identifying additional assets in the haemophilia and haematology space that we can bolt on to our existing franchise," Brandgaard said.
"We believe those assets are available but whether it is going to be in the form of in-licensing of Phase II or Phase III clinical stage assets or whether it is going to be outright M&A, that depends."
Novo Nordisk is showing a new eagerness to engage in acquisitions under Chief Executive Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, who took over a year ago, and who has said the firm needs external innovation to broaden its product line-up.
It has the firepower to do deals, with strong cash flows and a cash pile of 19 billion Danish crowns at the end of September 2017, although analysts believe it might have to trim share buybacks in 2018 in the event of a substantial purchase.
So far the Danish company has failed to successfully execute a big deal.
In addition to losing Ablynx, in March 2017 it also approached Global Blood Therapeutics, a U.S. biotech company focused on serious blood disorders, to discuss a potential takeover, people familiar with the situation said at the time.
Brandgaard said Novo Nordisk had not made a formal attempt to buy Global Blood Therapeutics and described reports of its interest in the U.S. firm as a market rumour. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Alison Williams)