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France's Stallergenes eyes acquisitions in 2013

By Alice Cannet and Noëlle Mennella

PARIS (Reuters) - French allergy drug maker Stallergenes wants to grow abroad through partnerships and acquisitions, and hopes ongoing discussions could lead to a deal in 2013, its head said.

Stallergenes expects the European market to remain flat next year, with sales in Spain and Italy, which represent a fifth of the total, continuing to decline, Chief Executive Roberto Gradnik told Reuters in an interview.

"Our international expansion is a priority," Gradnik said. "We want to speed it up as much as possible ... We are always talking to many potential partners or targets."

The Paris-listed group, which competes with Danish drugmaker ALK-Abello, a partner of Merck & Co, could spend part of its roughly 80 million euros ($106 million) in cash on targeted acquisitions.

Gradnik is looking at Latin America, where growth prospects are promising, as well as new markets such as the United States. Stallergenes could also target companies in the world's biggest allergy drug market, Germany.

Founded in 1962, the company has expanded in Australia, Argentina, Russia and Turkey this year.

Stallergenes is talking with authorities about selling its flagship treatment, Oralair, which immunizes patients against grass pollen allergies, in the United States, and Gradnik hopes to make an announcement on timing in early 2013.

Sales growth next year will depend on the company's ability to offset stagnation in Europe, while operating profit is likely to be broadly stable, the CEO said.

Stallergenes is targeting a 2012 operating margin in line with last year's 23.3 percent and is aiming to grow sales by around 5 percent this year. Operating profit reached 55 million euros last year on sales of 235 million.

Shares in Stallergenes, listed since 1998, are little changed compared with the start of the year, valuing the company at 576 million euros.

Investment firm Ares Life Sciences, founded by Swiss businessman Ernesto Bertarelli, controls 73 percent of the company.

(Editing by James Regan)

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