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Watson buys women's health company Uteron Pharma

The Associated Press

PARSIPPANY, N.J. (AP) -- Drugmaker Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Wednesday that it has completed a deal to expand its women's health business, buying Belgian drug developer Uteron Pharma SA for $150 million in up-front cash.

Watson, which makes generic, brand-name and biosimilar medicines, said Uteron could receive up to $155 million more in future milestone payments, depending on whether products it is testing are approved for sale.

Uteron, based in Liège, Belgium, is a spinoff of the University of Liège. It has several female healthcare products in development.

Those include a contraceptive device, a next-generation birth control pill containing the natural hormone estrogen and tests to increase the success rate of in-vitro fertilization. That's a technique to help infertile couples by combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and then transferring the resulting embryo into the woman's uterus.

Uteron's first product could be an intrauterine device called Levosert, for long-term contraception and treating heavy menstrual bleeding. The device is awaiting approval in several European Union countries and could go on sale there this year. It's in late-stage testing for the U.S. market, where it could be launched in 2014 if approved.

Watson, based in Parsippany, N.J., has the rights to market Levosert in Western Europe and, in partnership with two other companies, in the U.S. and some Eastern European countries.

Another Uteron product, Diafert, a test kit for determining the quality of a woman's eggs for in-vitro fertilization, could increase the success rate for implanting embryos. That could help couples achieve a pregnancy with fewer cycles of costly in-vitro fertilization.

Watson, which is the world's third-largest maker of generic prescription drugs, said Diafert is expected to receive approval in the European Union in the second half of this year and launch after that. It could be approved in the U.S. in 2014. Watson has exclusive global marketing rights to Diafert.

Uteron has another product in mid-stage patient testing, Estelle birth control pills. They contain a new natural estrogen called estetrol believed to be safer than other oral contraceptives. Estelle could be launched worldwide in 2018.

In addition, Uteron has potential products in early development, including Colvir, a treatment for vaginal infections.

In afternoon trading Watson shares rose 43 cents as $85.69.