The course of true love has again failed to run smooth for U.S. pharma companies.
Jb Reed/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Chicago-based speciatly pharma company breaks off talks after being rebuffed three times.

By Geoffrey Smith
June 20, 2014

Oh, those coy British pharma mistresses.

AbbVie Inc ABBV has joined Pfizer Inc  PFI has become the latest U.S. company to have its proposal for a marriage made in tax heaven cruelly spurned.

This week’s comely, blushing takeover target is U.K.-based Shire PLC SHPG , which said Friday it had rejected three approaches from the Chicago-based specialty biopharma company since early May, the final one valuing it at 27 billion pounds ($46 billion), a premium of over 20% to its closing price Thursday.

AbbVie, for its part, having told itself to start with that faint heart never won fair lady, appeared to be swinging towards the view that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have destroyed shareholder value by overpaying. It said in a statement that talks were no longer ongoing–although it didn’t say that its last offer was a final one, leaving a small possibility, under the UK takeover code, that the embers of its passion could yet be rekindled.

It’s the latest in a series of attempts by U.S. companies to save hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes by relocating their official headquarters to Ireland or the U.K., following Medtronic’s  MDT $43 billion bid for Covidien PLC  COV  and Pfizer Inc.’s PFI , even bigger, but unsuccessful, $120 billion bid for AstraZeneca PLC AZN .

The rush of such “inversion”-driven deals has been driven, in part, by the sound of Time’s winged chariot hurrying near: President Barack Obama’s budget proposals for this year would close the relevant loopholes in U.S. law.

Shire, which specializes in rare disease treatments, is more like AstraZeneca in as much as its history is rooted in the UK, whereas Covidien was essentially a U.S. company that had already made the switch to low-tax Ireland.

However, with only $5 billion in annual revenue, it’s much smaller than AZ, which makes it less of a political hot potato. Pfizer’s bid had foundered on U.K. government suspicions that it would hollow out AZ’s research capabilities in the UK, destroying high-value jobs.

Shire’s board said in its statement that AbbVie’s offers “fundamentally undervalued” the company, which is promising to double revenue between now and 2020.

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