Sanofi, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline reportedly circling India's Elder Pharma

It's early days for Elder Pharmaceuticals' sell-or-not analysis. But the Indian media antennae are out for the latest tremor of news. Today, the Economic Times reports that Sanofi ($SNY), Novartis ($NVS) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are all kicking tires at Elder Pharma, eyeing its domestic drugs business--in part or in toto.

Earlier this month, Elder said it was evaluating its strategic options, opening the door to potential buyers. Ernst & Young and Nomura Securities were said to be managing the review. At the time, the ET fingered Sanofi, Pfizer ($PFE) and Glaxo as possible buyers, but its sources promised more solid info within 15 days. Price? Around $500 million, at today's exchange rates.

Well, it's now 15 days later, and the ET's buyer list has swapped Pfizer for Novartis. The newspaper has also added private equity suitors into the mix. According to the paper's sources, the Big Pharma shoppers are more interested in buying the business sans employees--or in buying products alone. The private equity bidders would of course take over the whole shebang, employees included. Whether job cuts would follow is another question, of course.

Elder Pharma's stock is up 5% in India on the news. The company itself says it has no "definite proposals for sale" of its domestic drug business. "We have not received any non-binding offers from counter-parties as mentioned" by the ET, the company said in a statement (as quoted by MoneyControl, another Indian media outlet).

India is a prickly market at this point, with fast-growing demand for drugs but ongoing battles over intellectual property protections. GSK, Sanofi, Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), Roche ($RHHBY), Mylan ($MYL) and other global drugmakers have snapped up Indian pharma companies or set up alliances to roll out their drugs in that market. Meanwhile, some Big Pharma companies have seen their patents revoked, and the government has forced one foreign drugmaker--Bayer--to license a cancer drug to an Indian company making generic versions. Other compulsory licenses are said to be in the works. But the IP picture isn't all bad; Merck ($MRK) won an injunction against one company planning copies of its diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet, and Pfizer recently persuaded authorities to reconsider the revocation of its patent on Sutent, a kidney cancer treatment.

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