Johnson & Johnson is looking to acquire global medical device manufacturer Synthes in a deal that, according to various reports, could be worth around $20 billion.

In response to growing media speculation over the last few days Synthes has now confirmed that it is indeed in talks with J&J "about a potential business combination transaction".

But the group declined to provide any further information, saying only that it would not make any more statements until a definitive agreement is reached or discussions have been terminated.

Synthes develops, manufactures and markets instruments, implants and biomaterials for the surgical fixation, correction and regeneration of the human skeleton and its soft tissues, and currently employs nearly 11,500 people worldwide.

The group pulled in sales of $3.7 billion last year, growing 7.5% over 2009, and presents an attractive proposition for J&J, which has been hard hit by a series of product recalls over the last year or so that have put a sizeable dent in its turnover.

Market gains

According to Vontobel analyst Carla Baenziger, a deal between the two firms would double J&J's market share in spinal care to 30%, coming second only to MedTronic, and make it king of the US market for trauma with a share of around 57%, media reports note.

While it remains unclear at what stage negotiations are at, the Wall Street Journal has cited a source close to the situation who claims that J&J is "making headway" with due diligence on Synthes' accounts.

Shares in both groups were bumped up on the news, but one group that suffered was UK medical device maker Smith & Nephew, which until now was widely believed to be the primary target of J&J's roving eye.