Sanofi-Aventis has come out on top in an auction to buy Australian vitamins and mineral supplements firm Symbion Consumer from Primary Health Care.

Under the terms of the deal, the French drugmaker is paying out A$560 million (around $544 million) to get hold of the unit which manufactures, markets and distributes nutraceuticals and over the counter brands throughout Australia and New Zealand. Sales at Symbion Consumer, which has a 21% leading market share, posted sales of A$190 million in 2007.

The deal, which is expected to be completed on August 31, has come about because Primary has been looking to sell non-core assets that it picked up through its A$2.7 billion acquisition of Symbion Health earlier this year. It has been reported that Sanofi’s offer beat off bids for the unit from the likes of Merck KGaA, Zuellig Pharma and Sigma Pharmaceuticals.

Explaining the rationale behind the deal, Olivier Charmeil, senior vice president of Sanofi’s pharmaceutical operations in Asia Pacific, said the firm immediately gets “a leading market share in a rapidly growing category”. He added that the acquisition will sustain the Paris-headquartered firm’s growth in Australia “through products portfolio widening, increased pharmacy presence and access to new channels”.

Mr Charmeil went on to say that the deal “will create strong synergies with our existing pharmaceutical activities” and allow the firm to launch “a nutraceutical offering throughout the Asia Pacific region”.

The deal comes at a time when Sanofi is looking to expand in other areas as it faces up to the challenges of patent expiries and pricing problems with its pharmaceuticals, like most firms in the sector. It has also made a bid worth around $2.7 billion for Czech generics drugmaker Zentiva but that offer has just been rejected by the Prague-based firm.

Primary, which will use the proceeds from the sale to reduce the debt it took on to fund the Symbion Health deal, is also selling its pharmacy business which is expected to bring in more than A$500 million.