Sanofi-Aventis scans India for acquisitionsSanofi-Aventis, the $42-billion French drug maker, which bought companies in Brazil, Mexico, and the home-grown Shanta Biotech this year, has sent a delegation to India to finalise another target for acquisition in a market that is estimated to be worth more than $17 billion and growing, two persons familiar with the matter said.

The top team from Sanofi met executives at some Indian pharma companies, including the country’s fourth-largest drug maker Piramal Healthcare and privately-held Micro Labs, for a probable acquisition. This is the second time that Sanofi is courting Piramals this year, people aware of the negotiations said. But Piramals denied it saying they are negotiating for a stake sale.

“This is simply not true,” Swati Piramal, director (strategic alliance & communications), told “We do business with MNCs and so lots of them visit us regularly. We have not given out any mandate.” she said. A director at Bangalore-based Micro Labs declined to comment.

A team of around 10 officials from Sanofi-Aventis has been in India recently to visit Mumbai-based Piramal Lifesciences, the hived-off R&D company of the Piramals, where they spent a few days meeting executives, said a source familiar with Sanofi’s moves. The teams have also met some of the other leading manufacturers in Mumbai and Bangalore, the source said.

A Sanofi-Aventis spokesperson declined to comment. Global pharma giants, such as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Sanofi, are hunting for generic drug makers, as they face potential revenue slump when a host of the patents they hold expires in the next few years. The absence of blockbuster patented drugs is forcing these companies to increase their revenues by buying up generic companies in developing markets, which are growing exponentially because of economic prosperity.

Multiple investment bankers, whom spoke to, said the talks with Piramals have resumed. Piramal, which was built by acquiring local units of many global companies in the past, has a field force of 4,000 people, one of the largest in the country. Its net sales stood at Rs 3,281.1 crore in FY09 and net profit was Rs 318.8 crore. Piramal, unlike some Indian pharma companies, did not get into legal tussle with patent holders, or lose money on currency transactions.