The number of bids made to acquire Ratiopharm, the world's fourth-largest generic drugmaker, have pleasantly surprised the German firm’s owners.

VEM Vermoegensverwaltung, the investment arm of the Merckle family, says it is satisfied with the first-round multiple bids it has received for Ratiopharm, A spokesman for the latter firm, Markus Braun told Dow Jones Newswires that the best offers will be selected for negotiations in the next few weeks.

He added that more bids were received than expected, claiming that VEM is satisfied with the offers, Mr Braun declined to give any figures but Reuters quoted two sources “close to the proceedings” who said that several bids exceeded 2 billion euros, while some were “markedly above that figure”.

Following the suicide of Adolf Merckle at the beginning of the year, VEM negotiatied with a consortium of lenders in a bid to save the 120-firm business empire he had built up. A bridging loan was secured with about 30 banks, but one of the conditions was that Ratiopharm would be sold.

The identity of potential buyers have not been disclosed but some of the names mentioned include Sanofi-Aventis, Pfizer, Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Novartis, Mylan and the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts. Analysts believe that a sale could net as much as 3 billion euros.