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After a lull of two years, big-ticket mergers and acquisitions (M&A) seem to be back in the Indian pharmaceutical industry. The most recent deal is by Bangalore-based Strides Arcolab, which sold 94 per cent of its subsidiary Ascent Pharmahealth to US-based Watson Pharmaceuticals for A $375 million (about Rs 1,965 crore).

Ascent Pharmahealth, with operations in Australia and Southeast Asia and revenues of nearly Rs 750 crore, was sold to cut half of Strides Arcolab's debt and also to focus on sterile pharmaceutical products.

It is another example of mid-sized Indian drug companies trying to develop niche capabilities instead of getting into all aspects of generic drug manufacturing and sales. This is the first big deal in Indian pharmaceutical industry in the past two years. In May 2010,  Ajay Piramal sold off the formulation division of Piramal Healthcare to Abbott for $3.8 billion (Rs 17,190 crore). "Not many generic assets are available for sale and those who are willing to sell are able to command a good premium," says Ranjit Kapadia, senior vice-president of Centrum Broking. Markets welcomed the deal, as the stock gained 17.5 per cent on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) on 24 January.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-02-2012)