UCB SA agreed to sell its U.S. generic-drug business to private-equity firms Advent International and Avista Capital Partners for $1.53 billion to focus on key central nervous system and immunology divisions.

UCB, Belgium’s biggest drugmaker, will use the cash proceeds from the sale of Kremers Urban Pharmaceuticals Inc. to cut debt and invest in development of new medicines, the Brussels-based company said in a statement today.

“This is another step for UCB to enhance focus on our core business in neurology and immunology,” Chief Executive Officer Roch Doliveux said in the statement.

Doliveux, who is stepping down in January, has spent the past decade shifting UCB’s focus away from chemicals and films while increasing development of drugs for severe diseases. He integrated Celltech Group Ltd., bringing the Cimzia rheumatoid arthritis treatment to UCB, and in 2006 acquired German drugmaker Schwarz Pharma to add neurological treatments.

The sale price for Kremers Urban exceeded a $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion estimate from Peter Welford, an analyst at Jefferies International Ltd. The divestment, which was widely expected, implies a price multiple of 3.5 times the unit’s sales and 8.1 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, he said.

“Now was a logical and opportune time to dispose of this non-core business,” Welford said in a note.

UCB fell 0.4 percent to 65.27 euros as of 9:57 a.m. in Brussels, reversing a gain earlier in the day. The stock has returned 23 percent this year, including reinvested dividends, compared with a 21 percent gain for the Bloomberg Europe Pharmaceuticals Index.

The transaction is expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year, UCB said. Lazard Ltd. is acting as lead financial adviser to UCB, BNP Paribas SA is acting as an additional financial adviser and Covington & Burling LLP provided legal advice.

UCB said in February that Jean-Christophe Tellier, the company’s head of biopharmaceutical brands, will take over as CEO at the start of 2015.

For Boston-based Advent, the deal comes one day after the firm announced it closed a $2.1 billion fund to focus on making Latin American investments. The firm is also investing for a $10.8 billion global fund. 

-additional reporting by Allison Collins

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