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QLT's experimental eye drug could be worth up to $750 million

By Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay

(Reuters) - Canadian eye drug developer QLT Inc expects its synthetic retinoid program, an experimental treatment for some inherited eye diseases that can cause blindness, to be valued at up to $750 million.

Several potential buyers have approached QLT for the program — its only remaining product after it sold its eye drug, Visudyne, to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc in September.

"We believe in the program and we are much more interested in selling it at, let's say, $15 a share, to pick a round number," QLT Chairman Jason Aryeh told Reuters.

The company, valued by the market at $413 million, posted losses in the last 10 quarters as Visudyne lost market share to drugs such as Novartis AG's Lucentis.

QLT stopped generating revenue after the sale of the drug and has cut more than 80 percent of its workforce since July, a month after an activist investor's slate of nominees took control of the board.

Its synthetic retinoid compound, however, has received orphan drug status in the United States and Europe, raising hopes of a faster regulatory approval.

Aryeh, who was named chairman after the board shakeup, said the company's current stock price did not reflect the value of the drug.

But analysts expect it to sell for much less.

"We believe the board may be looking for a price in the range of $100-$200 million (for the retinoid program)," Bloom Burton & Co analyst Philippa Flint said in a recent note.

The company has cash in hand of about $400 million.

Aryeh said QLT would not pay a regular quarterly dividend but did not rule out the possibility of a one-time dividend.

QLT shares have remained nearly flat at C$7.87 this year. They traded around $120 in early 2000 when Visudyne was the company's key revenue generator.

(Reporting by Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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