A new blood thinner is looking much safer than conventional drugs to protect patients from heart attack and stroke. Picture: THINKSTOCK

ASPEN Pharmacare, the JSE’s biggest pharmaceutical group by market capitalisation, said on Monday it was in discussions with Merck Sharp & Dohme about an acquisition of an active pharmaceutical ingredient plant in the Netherlands.

Aspen management declined to comment further on the cautionary. In a statement, the group said the potential deal included a portfolio of medicine products.

Jean-Pierre Verster, an analyst at 36One Asset Management, said it was possible Aspen was considering buying the manufacturing plant of Merck Sharp & Dohme’s Organon division based in Oss, the Netherlands.

There was speculation in 2010 that Aspen, Japan-based Takeda Pharmacare and Pantarhei Bioscience of the Netherlands were bidding for the division.

But in February 2011 Merck Sharp & Dohme said talks on finding a buyer for all or part of Organon had failed.

Organon develops prescription medicines for the contraception, fertility, hormone therapy, mental health and anaesthesia medical markets.

In the year to June 2012, Aspen lifted normalised headline earnings per share 22% to 636.2c, compared with 523.3c a year earlier. This was after sales increased 23% to R15.3bn and its Asia-Pacific unit doubled its revenue to R6bn as a result of an acquisition.

At year-end, Aspen said it was focusing on the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions for growth. Last year was the company’s 14th successive year of profit growth.

Merck Sharp & Dohme has more than 40,000 employees in about 160 countries.

Aspen has a presence in a number of developed and emerging economies. Its overseas operations now make up most of its operating income.