Irish biotech firm Elan Corp is in late-stage talks to sell a minority stake to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co , a deal that could be a precursor to a full takeover of Elan, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

Bristol-Myers is one of two serious contenders for an Elan stake that could also include board representation and an ability to take control of the company later, the Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Spokespersons for Bristol-Myers and Elan declined to comment.

The Journal said a deal could be reached as early as next week, though the talks could still break down. It did not identify the other contender.

Elan hired Citigroup in January to conduct a strategic review of its business, which it said at the time could lead to a sale or merger of the company.

Elan was under pressure at the time from investors critical of Chief Executive Kelly Martin's leadership and the state of the biotech company, which was burning through cash at a rapid rate. In its most recent quarterly earnings report it posted a net loss of almost $103 million.

Biotechnology company Biogen Idec Inc and Elan jointly market the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri. Drugmaker Wyeth , being acquired by Pfizer
, and Elan are jointly developing the experimental Alzheimer's drug bapineuzumab. These are currently Elan's two most important products.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Chicago and Ransdell Pierson and Lewis Krauskopf in New York, editing by Jackie Frank)