Sanofi animal health attracts suitors: sources

PHILADELPHIA/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Sanofi-Aventis SA SASY.PA has attracted strong initial interest for its animal health operations, with at least four suitors lining up to bid, sources familiar with the situation said.

Bayer AG BAYGn.DE, Pfizer Inc PFE.N, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Novartis AG NOVN.VX were among the bidders eyeing the assets, sources said.

It was unclear whether all the suitors will submit formal offers, but each has expressed “indicative interest” in the assets, which include vaccines and parasiticides, sources said.

The sources declined to be identified by name because they were not authorized to speak with the media.

The assets to be sold come from a complicated formation of mergers and joint ventures.

Last year, Merck & Co's MRK.N $46 billion merger with Schering-Plough gave it the latter's Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health business. That business is combining with Sanofi's Merial operations in a joint venture with $5.3 billion in sales.

As part of the joint venture’s formation, Sanofi and Merck must shed certain overlapping assets as they await regulatory approval for creating a group that would hold 29 percent of the global animal health market.

Sanofi and Merck could sell assets with annual sales of up to $700 million, one source familiar with the situation said.

Consultant Vetnosis previously said the areas of overlap include vaccines for livestock, poultry, pets and horses; in products to kill parasites; and in specialty veterinary products, such as drugs to treat cardiovascular disorders.

It was unclear if Sanofi and Merck would try to sell the assets in one batch or settle for a series of smaller deals.

A Boehringer spokeswoman said the company was generally interested in expanding its animal health operations but she declined to comment on “market rumors.”

In March, sources said Bayer remained eager to boost its animal-health business.

Bayer and Novartis declined to comment. Pfizer, Sanofi and Merck could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Reporting by Jessica Hall in Philadelphia and Philipp Halstrick in Frankfurt, additional reporting by Ludwig Burger, Frank Siebelt, Arno Schuetze and Quentin Webb; Editing by Derek Caney and Phil Berlowitz