The final bids are believed to be in, and are thought to be over 4 billion euros, but the sale of Merck KGaA’s generics unit is by no means a foregone conclusion.

A number of media outlets are claiming that Israel’s Teva, the USA’s Mylan, Icelandic drugmaker Actavis and the private equity firms Apax Partners and Bain Capital have submitted offers to get control of the unit, which last week posted first-quarter sales of 453 million euros, up 3.7%. The Financial Times reported that "aggressive competition" pushed the price of the division higher than 4 billion euros at the close of a revised round of bids on Monday but noted that Merck has not necessarily decided to go ahead with a sale.

The Darmstadt, Germany-based firm’s outgoing chairman Michael Römer told the firm’s annual general meeting at the end of last week that “the potential divestment of the generics business in a consolidating market is the right step into the future of Merck.” He added that increasingly, generics are being sold solely on price criteria and the compelling need to consolidate is therefore growing. “In order to remain competitive in this dynamic mass market, we would need to intensify our investments,” he said, but “by contrast, we see ourselves…as a supplier of innovations. We are therefore evaluating the divestment of this division, but we have not taken a final decision yet.”

However, Dr Römer appeared to contradict his point, saying at the end of his speech that “in all likelihood, and excluding the generics division, which is to be sold,” group sales will grow organically at a high single-digit rate. It is thought that another round of bidding may be necessary before a victor emerges and Merck’s need to claw back funds following its 10.2 billion euro acquisition of Switzerland’s Serono last year could make a sale of the generics unit a necessity.