About 20 bidders circle AstraZeneca unit – interesting, but I just liked the design of corporate headquarters by Frank Gehry

LONDON | Wed Feb 23, 2011 11:34am EST

(Reuters) – About 20 bidders are readying offers for all or parts of Astra Tech, the dental and medical devices unit that AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) hopes could fetch $2 billion, people familiar with the matter said.

Astra Tech, which had revenues last year of $535 million, is the world’s third-biggest dental implant maker behind Switzerland‘s Straumann Holding (STMN.S) and Nobel Biocare Holding (NOBN.VX). It also sells medical devices, focusing chiefly on urology.

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Parent AstraZeneca, which first flagged the sale in November, has sent so-called “information memorandums” to a slew of medtech companies and private equity firms, the people said, and requested preliminary bids in March. An initial screening weeded out dozens of other potential bidders, they added.

Many bidders may only be interested in one of the two disparate arms, and AstraZeneca has invited suitors to make bids for either arm or for the whole business, the people said.

“The conversations are ongoing, and we are going through the strategic review process as we speak,” a company spokeswoman said. She declined to give further details.

The auction highlights AstraZeneca’s current focus on boosting returns to shareholders as it heads into a wave of patent expiries on some of its biggest selling medicines including Nexium, for heartburn and stomach ulcers, and Seroquel for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The group last month announced a doubling of its share buyback program to $4 billion in 2011.

In contrast to some of its rivals, such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), Novartis (NOVN.VX) and Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA), AstraZeneca has stayed focused on its core pharmaceuticals business rather than seeking diversification.

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