Updated March 26 at 6:25pm

Covidien spinning off drugs unit to focus on pain management


DUBLIN - Covidien Plc., a maker of surgical products and drugs, plans to spin off its pharmaceuticals division into a separate company that would be better able to compete in the growing pain-management area.

The drugs unit generates about $2 billion in annual sales, with about two-thirds coming from the U.S. market, the company said in a statement Thursday. Among its products are Exalgo, a 24-hour extended release opioid, and Pennsaid, a topical anti-inflammatory medication.

Covidien, with offices in Dublin, Ireland, and Mansfield, Mass., had been seeking to sell the unit when talks broke down earlier this year, people familiar with the matter said in June. The company’s medical products business has annual sales of about $9.6 billion, Thursday's statement said.

“The pharma division has been a drag on the company’s top-line growth rate,” said Joanne Wuensch, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets in New York, in a note. The spinoff “should provide a relief to the overhang and questions that have dogged this division.”

Covidien rose 4 percent to $43.84 at 9:32 a.m. New York time. The shares had fallen 7.7 percent this year before Thursday, closing yesterday near their low for 2011.

Shedding the drugs division is expected to take up to 18 months to complete, the company said in the statement.

Acquisitions Unaffected

The spinoff won’t affect the company’s ability to make acquisitions, CFO Charles Dockendorff said on a conference call. Covidien won’t have a stake in the new drug company, and shedding the business won’t affect Covidien’s results, he said.

A leader for the drug company has been hired and Covidien declined to identify the person.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. was advising Covidien on its options, the people knowledgeable about the matter said in June, declining to be identified because the talks were private. CEO José E. Almeida refused to address questions about the earlier possible sale.

“They probably tried to find a buyer but couldn’t get the price they wanted,” Jeff Jonas, an analyst with Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York, said in a phone call. Gabelli owns shares of the company for its clients.

Trays, Hypodermic Needles

The medical products division makes trays, hypodermic needles, retractors, pumps for patient feeding and pain management, and other items used in hospitals.

“This transaction, if completed, would give both businesses greater flexibility to focus on and pursue their respective growth strategies, while potentially providing shareholders with greater value over the longer term,” Almeida said in the statement.

The pharmaceutical company will likely be based in Ireland, partly for tax purposes, Dockendorff said. The main operations of the drug business are now in St. Louis, Mo.

The drugs business “definitely needs some investment, and that’s why there are so many questions about the new president and whether there might be some strategy changes beyond that, Jonas said. “They need to find some new products, invest in the pipeline. That’s a multiyear process,” he said.

Covidien has divested three business units since December 2009, when it sold the U.S. radiopharmaceutical business to Parthenon Capital LLC, a private equity firm based in Boston. In two 2010 deals, the company sold U.S. units to New Mountain Capital LLC, based in New York.

Jonas said those sorts of sales are part of a trend across industries in a difficult economy. “We’re in a tough market where share prices haven’t been increasing,” he said. “Maybe the pieces will be more attractive on their own.”


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