By Soyoung Kim and Greg Roumeliotis
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc is nearing a deal to buy genetic testing equipment maker Life Technologies Corp for close to $13 billion, according to four people familiar with the matter, in what would be one of the year's biggest corporate takeovers.
The acquisition would catapult Thermo Fisher into the hot field of genetic sequencing, where researchers, drugmakers and doctors are uncovering the genetic factors underpinning diseases to better tailor treatments to the patients.
Life Technologies' board met on Saturday to review three takeover offers. It chose Thermo Fisher over Sigma-Aldrich Corp, a maker of chemicals for research laboratories, and a private equity consortium consisting of Blackstone Group LP, Carlyle Group LP, KKR & Co LP and Temasek Holdings, the sources said on Sunday.
The final price being negotiated is in the region of $75 per share, valuing Life Technologies at close to $13 billion, one of the sources added. A deal could come as soon as Monday, though negotiations could yet fall apart as terms are being finalized.
Life Technologies, Thermo Fisher, Sigma-Aldrich and the private equity consortium did not respond to requests for comment.
Analysts have previously said the combination of Waltham, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher and Carlsbad, California-based Life Technologies would create an unparalleled life sciences company and put Thermo on the road to $20 billion in revenues.
Life Technologies would be Thermo Fisher's biggest acquisition since the $12.8 billion merger in 2006 of Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific International that created the world's largest maker of scientific equipment and laboratory instruments.
A deal at $75 per share would represent a premium of 36 percent on Life Technologies' closing share price on January 17, the day before it announced it had mandated Deutsche Bank AG and Moelis & Co to assist in a strategic review.
The stock closed at $68 on the Nasdaq on Friday, up 39 percent so far this year on speculation about a possible deal. The S&P 500 Index is up just 11.4 percent in the same period.
Life Technologies, which has a market value of $11.6 billion and debt of about $2.4 billion, explored a sale after previous attempts by Chief Executive Gregory Lucier to boost the value of the company's shares and capture more market share from rival Illumina Inc proved unsuccessful.
Illumina had already demonstrated the appeal of gene-sequencing companies that help analyze a person's genetic blueprint to develop personalized medical treatment. Drugmaker Roche Holding AG had made a $6.8 billion hostile offer for Illumina last year but walked away when the company demanded a higher price.
Life Technologies had also attracted interest from Roche and industrial and healthcare conglomerate Danaher Corp, sources previously told Reuters. Yet in the end it was only Thermo Fisher and Sigma-Aldrich that saw enough synergies to pursue a merger.
Thermo Fisher's products range from the most basic scientific equipment, such as test tubes, to advanced mass spectrometry equipment used to determine the chemical structure of molecules. It also sells chemicals, agents and antibodies used in the manufacturing and research of biotech medicine, and has enhanced its portfolio of environmental safety products for testing air and water quality and food safety in recent years.
The Life Technologies deal would boost Thermo Fisher's presence in scientific research, genetic analysis and applied sciences. Thermo Fisher has been quite acquisitive in recent years, buying Phadia for $3.5 billion in 2011 and Dionex for $2.1 billion in 2010.
Life Technologies had sought a higher price from bidders after receiving committed offers last Tuesday, the people familiar with the matter said. They asked not to be identified because the matter is not yet public.
The private equity consortium also raised its offer on Friday from $65 to about $67 per share, short of Thermo Fisher's bid, one of the people said.
The price and structure of the offer from Sigma-Aldrich, which has a $9.2 billion market value and has been working with Morgan Stanley on the offer, could not be determined. Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
At 15.2 times projected 12-month earnings, Life Technologies already trades at a premium to its peer group, which averages 13.9 times projected 12-month earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Life Technologies is also the product of the combination of two companies - Invitrogen, a maker of cultures used in the manufacture of biotech medicines, and the genetic testing company Applied Biosystems.
Paulson & Co, a top Life Technologies shareholder which has a stake in the company of more than 8 percent, would be supportive of a deal at $75 per share as it stands to make a profit of about $400 million, according to two people familiar with the hedge fund manager. Paulson declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Bill Berkrott in New York; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)