LONDON/FRANKFURT, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Brazilian drugs firm EMS and Indian rival Torrent Pharma have emerged as the only industry bidders for Sanofi's generic drugs unit, battling a series of buyout funds for an asset worth as much as $2.4 billion, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The two emerging market drug firms were among a group of bidders that were recently shortlisted to carry out due diligence for the unit, known as Zentiva, after submitting indicative bids in January, the sources said.
Sanofi is now hoping to find a buyer by the end of the first quarter, one of the sources said, adding competition between the two drug makers and a host of buyout funds could push up the final price.
A consortium of Blackstone and Nordic Capital has also made it through the second round of the auction, the sources said, and is facing competition from three other private equity funds, namely Carlyle, BC Partners and Advent.
Sanofi, EMS, Torrent Pharma and all the private equity funds declined to comment.
The auction, led by Rothschild, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, kicked off in October after Sanofi spent over a year carving out the division in a bid to create a standalone company that could be swallowed by one of its competitors or an investment fund.
The business is valued at close to 2 billion euros ($2.49 billion), representing a valuation of about 12 or 13 times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 150 million euros, two of the sources said.
For India's Torrent Pharma, which has a market value of $3.4 billion, the deal would grant access to various European markets. Brazil's EMS has already built a small presence in Central and Eastern Europe with the 2017 purchase of Serbian laboratory Galenika.
Sanofi first hinted at a possible disposal of its European generic drugs business in late 2015 but has so far focused on selling its animal health unit by finalising a $20 billion asset swap deal with Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim last year.
France's largest drug maker has also embarked on a series of big acquisitions this year, spending more than $16 billion to clinch control of U.S. haemophilia specialist Bioverativ and Belgian biotech company Ablynx.
Zentiva operates in 50 markets and has a strong presence in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.
Its generic drugs portfolio includes cardiovascular and gastrointestinal drugs as well as painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs based on ibuprofen and leflunomide molecules.
Reuters reported on Jan. 18 that bankers have put together around 1.2 billion euros of debt financing to back a potential sale of Sanofi's generic drug business.
$1 = 0.8030 euros Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris, Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bangalore; Editing by Catherine Evans