Glaxo plays down Bristol link

GLAXO WELLCOME yesterday played down speculation of a pounds 140bn merger with US drugs rival Bristol Myers Squibb, but said it still wanted to link up with a competitor.

Sources close to Glaxo said the UK company held informal talks over a no-premium merger with BMS, the world's fifth-largest drug maker, but negotiations broke down a few months ago and are unlikely to be resumed. Glaxo is also thought to have considered and rejected a merger with Roche of Switzerland.

The BMS failure raises the pressure on Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham to reopen talks on their own merger. Jan Leschly, SKB chief executive, has since scotched suggestions that a deal may still be on.

However, Sir Richard Sykes, Glaxo chairman, believes the logic of further consolidation is irrefutable and is keen to find a partner. His target is for Glaxo to control 10 per cent of the world drug market. It currently has a 4 per cent share.

A merger with BMS would have produced a group with a combined share of 8 per cent and market value of pounds 140bn.