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Sanofi CEO Sees Opportunities for Deals in Vietnam, Colombia

Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Chris Viehbacher sees opportunities for deals in countries such as Vietnam and Colombia as France’s biggest drugmaker continues to target purchases and partnerships in developing nations.

“Prices of assets haven’t come down,” leading Sanofi to scout for targets in countries beyond China and India where prices are more reasonable, Viehbacher said today in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China.

“Places like Vietnam, Indonesia, places like Colombia have become extremely interesting in terms of growth,” the 52-year-old CEO said.

Drugmakers have been turning to Asia and Latin America for investments to reduce their reliance on slower-growth markets such as Europe. The purchase of Medley SA in 2009 gave Paris-based Sanofi, the maker of Lantus insulin and the Plavix blood-thinner, ownership of Brazil’s third-largest pharmaceutical company and the country’s biggest maker of generic medicines.

Boosting Sanofi’s presence in China, where the French company probably will increase its workforce in the coming year, also remains a priority, Viehbacher said. The Chinese government is trying to prevent growth from slipping below a 7.5 percent target this year, which would already be the weakest since 1990.

“I am confident, in the long term, on the growth outlook for China,” the CEO said. “We are moving from made in China to created and discovered in China. It’s just a normal part of an economic development process that as wages rise, companies have to seek higher value out of the industries.”

Generic Competition

Since taking over in December 2008, Viehbacher has been building up Sanofi’s business through acquisitions and partnerships to make up for lost revenue on best-selling products such as Plavix that face generic competition. Viehbacher reiterated in July that Sanofi is open to “bolt-on” transactions of as much as 2 billion euros ($2.58 billion) this year.

“We could clearly spend a lot more, but our objective is to do bolt-on acquisitions” that will add to Sanofi’s seven so-called growth platforms, Viehbacher said today. The platforms include businesses ranging from diabetes and vaccines to animal and consumer health care. He declined to talk about specific deals in the pipeline.

The company spent $20.1 billion last year to buy the U.S. biotechnology company Genzyme Corp.

Sanofi shares have risen almost 19 percent this year in Paris trading, compared with gains in Zurich of 9.4 percent for Roche Holding AG and 3.7 percent for Novartis AG. GlaxoSmithKline Plc has declined 3.1 percent in London.

The European debt crisis has been costing Sanofi 200 million euros to 300 million euros a year, as governments cut the prices of medicines, Viehbacher said.

“We don’t see that getting any worse, but we don’t see that getting any better,” he said.

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