Avecia sale clears pension deficit

Buyout firms Cinven and Investcorp appear to have arrived at a novel way of funding a portfolio company’s pension shortfall – selling one of its subsidiaries.

Avecia Pharmaceuticals, the pharmaceutical custom synthesis business of the UK’s Avecia Group, has been sold to Nicholas Piramal of India for £9.5 million (€14 million; $17 million).

In a statement, Avecia Group said the transaction would fund its pension fund deficit of between £8 million and £9 million subject to regulatory and other closing conditions.

Earlier this year, the UK Pension Act was introduced, which appears to drop the ‘corporate veil’ that had previously protected private equity firms, their portfolio companies and senior executives from liability for pension shortfalls in companies they own.

Avecia Pharmaceuticals, which has 350 employees, provides process development and custom synthesis services to the international marketplace. The sale includes all its assets and operations at its principal site in Huddersfield, England; a large-scale fermentation asset at Billingham, England; a high potency substance (HPS) facility at Grangemouth, Scotland; and Torcan Chemicals, its North American operation based in Aurora, Canada.

The deal represents the second acquisition of a UK business by Nicholas Piramal following its purchase of Rhodia’s inhalation anaesthetics business in December 2004. The Mumbai-based healthcare company is building its presence in Western Europe and North America in areas such as chiral synthesis, fermentation, bio-transformation and high potency substances.

London-based Cinven and Bahrain-based Investcorp teamed up to acquire Avecia Group from AstraZeneca in 1999 in a £1.3 billion deal.