Drug Stocks Drive European Markets Higher

Drug makers took center stage in European trading Tuesday, with shares of AstraZeneca PLC climbing on news of a potential takeover bid, and GlaxoSmithKline PLC rising as it sells one of its units in a multibillion-dollar deal.

The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.8% to 335.22, as investors returned from a four-day Easter holiday break to a slate of developments in the pharmaceutical sector, the best-performing group on the pan-European index.

Topping advancers was AstraZeneca , with shares pulled up by 6.7% following a Daily Telegraph report that the British drug maker has hired Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to advise it if Pfizer Inc. (PFE) were to again attempt talks with the company about a takeover bid.

U.S.-listed shares of AstraZeneca surged 8.8% on Monday following a report by the Sunday Times of London that Pfizer -- the largest drug maker in the U.S. -- had approached AstraZeneca about a possible merger.

Stock in Novartis AG advanced 2.1% as the Swiss company on Tuesday outlined changes in its portfolio lineup, including plans to buy GlaxoSmithKline PLC's oncology unit for about $14.5 billion. Novartis also plans to sell its vaccines unit to Glaxo for $5.25 billion. Glaxo shares bounded up by 4.5%.

Gains for Glaxo helped the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index rise 0.8% to 6,683.17. Germany's DAX 30 pushed 1% higher to 9,507.21, and France's CAC 40 index advanced 0.6% to 4,456.76.

Outside of deal news, Philips NV (PHG) fell 6.6% after the company's first-quarter profit fell 14%, and as it spoke of a "challenging start to the year." Net profit for the diversified technology group's first quarter fell to 138 million euros ($190.5 million) from EUR161 million in the year-ago period. Revenue fell to EUR5.02 billion from EUR5.26 billion a year ago, hurt on currency weakness.