A dissident shareholder, a back room stock transaction, and the subsequent firing of a CFO together have the makings for a juicy soap opera. Throw in the fact that the main characters happen to be the two leading life science companies in buttoned-down Switzerland, and there are the makings for some hot gossip.

Novartis AG's decision last week to lay out CHF4.8 billion ($2.8 billion) in cash to buy BZ Gruppe's 3.7% stake of rival F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. (SWX:ROCZ) fed speculation that a full-blown merger is in the works between the Basel companies.