Mumbai: Piramal Group plans to lend up to $193 million to real estate projects in the current fiscal year to March as it focuses on building its newly launched financial arm, its chairman said.

Ajay Piramal, chairman, Piramal Group.

“We have started our investment first in the real estate sector," Ajay Piramal told the Reuters India Investment Summit on Monday. “Today, there are unique opportunities available in real estate."

He said the financial arm, which was launched this year, aims to lend between 750 crore ($145 million) and 1,000 crore by March 2012.

Ranked 39th with a net worth of $1.4 billion in the India rich-list by Forbes, the 56-year-old heads Piramal Healthcare, Piramal Glass, drug discovery unit Piramal Life Sciences and property developer Piramal Realty.

He made global news last year for selling his India drugs business to US-based Abbott Laboratories for $3.72 billion. Later, the group sold its diagnostic services unit to Super Religare Labs for about $132.6 million.

Post the two major divestments, market speculations have swirled about the group’s investments outside the pharmaceutical sector.

Besides the financial business, Piramal said there were other investment opportunities the group would consider to tap in the near future but declined to elaborate.

“If you have cash in hand there are lots of opportunities that are available," he said. “We are presented with more opportunities these days and there is much more reasonableness in the valuations."

In August, the group through its Piramal Healthcare unit agreed to buy 5.5% stake in Vodafone’s India mobile operations for $640 million.

Pharma Business

Piramal Healthcare, which specialises in contract manufacturing and over-the-counter drugs, is looking to raise its research and development spend to 200 crore in the next financial year from 150 crore this year, he said.

The group also plans to buy small overseas biotechnology firms to boost drug discovery and research capability, Piramal said.

The over-the-counter segment, which makes emergency contraceptive tablet i-Pill and skincare lotion Lacto Calamine, will continue to make losses in the next few years, weighed by investments the company is making on brand-building, he said.

In May, Piramal Life Sciences, the group’s research firm, decided to hive off its drug discovery business to Piramal Healthcare, and the group chairman said on Monday the process would be completed in this quarter.

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