DRUG maker Astellas Pharma is looking to sell its skin-care business, much of whose products are packaged in Ireland for sale in Europe.
The company employs more than 400 people in Kerry and Dublin, and the sale of its dermatology business could be worth between $500m and $1bn.
Dermatology is a key therapy area for its European arm. The Japanese firm, which has a market capitalisation of $23bn, is considering breaking up this side of its business and selling the pieces to generate a greater premium.
It has hired London-based investment banking boutique DC Advisory to sell the assets to different parties.
Astellas' dermatology portfolio includes leading eczema drug Protopic, which is packaged and sold into Europe from its manufacturing plant at Killorglin, Co Kerry.
Protopic's US patent is due to expire next year, opening it up to generic competition. Sales of the drug generated €16.9bn last year, up 4.3pc on 2011. The bulk of this was sold in America, followed by Europe.
The company's other Irish site, in Mulhuddart, Dublin, is a bulk manufacturing plant, while the Kerry operation is a finishing facility.
Kerry also manufactures and distributes worldwide an immunosuppressant medicine called Prograf, one of the company's most important drugs, which is used to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.
Dublin manufactures three active drug ingredients which are sold globally – famotidine (a stomach ulcer treatment), solifenacin (a urinary tract medicine) and Tamsulosin (for prostate gland problems).
Astellas, which also makes cholesterol treatment Lipitor, was formed in 2005 following the merger of Japanese drug companies Fujisawa and Yamanouchi.
Both had plants in Ireland before the merger, and although many other manufacturing sites were sold, the Irish ones stayed open.
General manager Patricia Kelly has cited Ireland's attractive corporation tax rate as one of the reasons for this.
Its European headquarters are located just outside London in Chertsey.
Astellas employs just over 17,000 people worldwide, including 4,300 in Europe.
Its parent company's major shareholders include State Street, Japanese insurer Nippon Life and JP Morgan Chase. (Additional reporting, Reuters)