Two British healthcare firms to be sold in deals worth combined £2bn


Two British healthcare companies have been snapped up in deals worth a combined £2bn.

The British pharmaceutical company Vectura Group, which is developing a pioneering inhaled treatment for Covid-19, has agreed a £958m takeover by Carlyle Group and looks likely to become the latest in a long line of UK businesses snapped up by private equity during the pandemic.

Also on Wednesday, the private hospitals group Spire accepted a £1bn bid from Australia’s Ramsay Health Care. That offer was a near 25% premium on Spire’s previous closing price.

The Vectura board unanimously recommended that shareholders in the London-listed company accept the offer, which represents a 32% premium to its ex-dividend closing price on the day before the deal was announced. Under the terms of the offer, shareholders would receive a total of 155p a share, consisting of 136p cash plus a 19p dividend.

It has been an extraordinary year for takeovers, with a string of household names taken private, including the motoring group AA, and the private-equity backed multibillion-pound buyout of the supermarket chain Asda.

Many companies’ share prices have not fully recovered from steep falls at the start of the pandemic, while borrowing money remains cheap thanks to record-low interest rates, creating ideal conditions for takeovers of listed companies, especially at a time when private equity firms are sitting on large reserves of cash.

More companies have been taken private in the last 18 months than at any time since the financial crisis, according to data from Dealogic. The data group has calculated that 123 UK firms have been bought by private equity firms in deals worth more than £36bn since the start of 2020, while a further 19 deals worth almost £16.6bn are in progress.

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Vectura is working with the UK-based Inspira Pharmaceuticals to develop an inhaled formulation of the latter’s plant-based lead drug candidate for the treatment of Covid-19. The Wiltshire-headquartered biotech company specialises in creating inhaled forms of medicines developed by a range of different companies.

Vectura’s shares climbed by more than 33% to 163p after the announcement of the deal. However, in recent months they had been well below the record high of 180p from mid-2015.

Ramsay offered 240p a share in its Spire bid. Spire said in a joint statement with Ramsay that the parties had reached an agreement on the terms of the deal, and recommended that shareholders vote in its favour.

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The London-listed Spire, which has major contracts with the NHS, has been hit by a drop in routine patient visits to hospitals during the pandemic, and had already been affected a decrease in referrals to private hospitals.

The group, which operates 39 hospitals in the UK, posted an adjusted pre-tax loss of £231m last year, when it treated almost 750,000 patients, after reporting a profit of £9.6m in 2019. It had said it expected profit to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.



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