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A few hours after one German drug and chemical conglomerate said it was buying a pharmaceutical company, another German conglomerate said it was selling its drug business so it could concentrate on chemicals.

Altana AG


said Thursday it would sell its pharmaceuticals division for $5.75 billion to the privately held Danish drugmaker


. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year, pending a review by European and U.S. regulators and a vote by Altana's shareholders.

Altana's decision follows the announcement by Germany's

Merck KGaA

that it would pay $13.3 billion for control of the Swiss biotechnology company



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. The German company is unrelated to the U.S. drugmaker


(MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK) Report


Just 13 months ago, Altana said it wanted to split its specialty chemicals business and pharmaceutical operations. Separating drugs and chemicals is based on the belief that "both companies will be facing new strategic opportunities for a successful future," said Nikolaus Schweickart, president and CEO of Altana.

Hakan Bjorklund, Nycomed's CEO, said the merged business will improve his company's role in Europe and expand efforts in South America and Russia.

Nycomed, with sales of $956 million last year, focuses on hospital products in Europe, and it licenses drugs from research-oriented companies.

Altana reported sales last year of $4.2 billion, including about $3.1 billion from its pharmaceuticals division. For the first half of 2006, the drug unit's pretax profit margin was nearly 27%, compared with the chemical unit's margin of 12%.

Altana's drug revenue is dominated by the acid-reflux treatment Protonix, which produced sales of about $1.8 billion last year. Altana says Protonix also meant about $1.8 billion in sales for partners, mostly to



, the holder of the U.S. license.