The chairman of


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said the company is keeping its options open and considering all possibilities, including a possible takeover of

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drug unit, as the Swiss pharmaceuticals and health care concern tries to boost its presence in the U.S.

After a meeting with shareholders on Thursday, Chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Vasella was asked if Novartis would be interested in acquiring the unit from DuPont. "We ought to look at each and every opportunity, and judge it," Vasella replied, according to published reports.

"As part of our normal business practices, we look at and evaluate all opportunities," a Novartis spokesman said, adding that the subject was brought up by a reporter in an interview. "This wasn't on the agenda. He would have said the same thing about a number of other companies if he had been asked the same question."

Vasella reportedly said he didn't think a tie-up with the DuPont division would create any antitrust concerns, and he added that such a move would give Novartis an entry into AIDS research. "If Novartis were to be a potential acquirer, the antitrust issue could be less than it would be with other potential acquisitions," the spokesman said. "They have a complementary pipeline to ours."

The spokesman also said "we are interested in increasing our U.S. interests, so the DuPont issue is a logical question. We have to be prepared for any opportunity." He added that the company's main priority at this point is getting its current products out to the market.

DuPont wouldn't comment on rumors about the future of the company, but said it "is continuing to evaluate separation options including an IPO and we'll choose the one that best contributes to shareholder value objectives."

In recent

New York Stock Exchange

trading, the American depositary shares of Novartis lost $2.10, or 5.6%, to $35.54, while DuPont traded down $2.29, or 5.4%, to $40.55.