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Baxter explores sale of its vaccines business -sources

By Olivia Oran and Arno Schuetze and Soyoung Kim

NEW YORK/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Baxter International Inc is exploring a sale of its vaccines business, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest healthcare company to look at divesting non-core assets to focus on key strengths.

The medical equipment and pharmaceuticals company is working with Goldman Sachs Group to find a buyer for the unit and has reached out to potentially interested parties including private equity firms, the people said on Wednesday, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

The Baxter unit, which includes vaccines for meningitis C and tick-borne encephalitis as well as collaborations for the development of seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines, had 2013 sales of close to $300 million according to regulatory filings.

It could not be learned how much the business could fetch in a sale, as the deliberation is at an early stage and Baxter has yet to send out detailed financial information to potential buyers, the people added.

Shares of Baxter were 2.3 percent higher at $69.93 on the New York Stock Exchange after gaining nearly 3.5 percent earlier on Wednesday.

Representatives for Baxter did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

The vaccines business, which is part of Baxter's $6.5 billion BioScience segment, is profitable but the company has determined it is not core, one person said.

Deerfield, Illinois-based Baxter makes medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology products, focusing on areas including hemophilia, immune disorders and infectious diseases.

It divides its operations between the BioScience division, which makes products including plasma-based proteins to treat hemophilia, and a Medical Products division. The medical products unit makes equipment used to inject fluids and drugs and had 2013 sales of nearly $8.7 billion.

Baxter is yet another example of large healthcare companies seeking to sell or spin off smaller divisions so they can focus on their mainstay products and allocate capital better. They have shown a new willingness to consider whether other companies may be better owners for certain assets.

Novartis AG is taking a hard look at its sub-scale businesses -- animal health, vaccines and over-the-counter medicines -- for a potential divestiture, chief executive Joe Jimenez told Reuters last week, adding that at least one of the three is not expected to make the cut.

Merck & Co Inc is also in talks with several companies about selling its consumer healthcare business, a deal that could value the unit at between $10 billion and $12 billion, Reuters previously reported.

(Reporting by Olivia Oran, Soyoung Kim in New York and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt; editing by Andrew Hay)

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