Paris: Shire Plc agreed to sell its cancer unit to France’s Servier SAS for $2.4 billion (Dh8.82 billion), tightening the US-based drugmaker’s focus on rare diseases and potentially making it more attractive to Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. as it considers a bid.

The Shire unit sells Oncaspar, used in the treatment of a form of leukaemia, and Onivyde for pancreatic cancer, the Lexington, Massachusetts-based company said in a statement Monday. The drugmaker said its board will consider using proceeds for a stock buy-back after Takeda decides whether to go through with its contemplated offer.

A deal for Shire could be valued at as much as $50 billion, which would make it one of the biggest takeovers by a Japanese firm of an overseas company and far exceed Takeda’s own market value of about $37 billion. Cancer isn’t one of the Shire’s major units, with $262 million in 2017 sales, or about 1.8 per cent of the company’s total.

“While the oncology business has delivered high growth and profitability, we have concluded that it is not core to Shire’s longer-term strategy,” Chief Executive Officer Flemming Ornskov said in the statement. “We will continue to evaluate our portfolio for opportunities to unlock further value and sharpen our focus on rare disease leadership with selective disposals of non-strategic assets.”

Takeda CEO Christophe Weber is ramping up the company’s overseas takeover ambitions, as patent expirations and a shrinking domestic population limit opportunities at home. The Japanese drugmaker announced in March that it was considering a bid for Shire and has until April 25 to make a formal offer or walk away under UK takeover rules. Takeda declined to comment further on Monday.

Takeda has approached lenders including Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. to ask them about financing the proposed acquisition, Bloomberg reported earlier this month, citing people with knowledge of the situation.

Shire gained as much as 3.5 per cent to 3,732 pence in early trading in London.

Closely held Servier will pay cash in the deal, according to the statement. Shire’s board began considering a sale of the oncology business in December. The process identified multiple potential strategic buyers across the US, Europe and Japan, Shire said.