Merck KGaA May Sell Consumer Health

Germany’s Merck KGaA is weighing options for its Consumer Health business, which it says has a strong market position but needs more investment to grow sufficiently. The chemicals and pharmaceuticals producer said it will consider a full or partial sale as well as strategic partnerships.

Any possible proceeds from a potential transaction would be used to deliver on the company’s overall financial targets, Merck said. The business, which has a number of leading products in attractive OTC applications, reported net sales of €860 million in 2016.

Some observers believe the business could fetch as much as $3 billion.

Merck CEO Stefan Oschmann said the company ”regularly reviews” its portfolio in the context of its innovation-driven strategy, and although the consumer health portfolio  has been “continuously enhanced,” he made no secret of the fact that management’s major interest in developing its biopharma pipeline, built up after the acquisition of Switzerland-based Serono in late 2006.

Healthcare CEO Belén Garijo said Merck expects “increasing internal constraints to fund the business to reach the required scale.”

The news was well received by the stock market, with analysts, assuming that it will be an outright sale, calling it a wise move. Merck is considered to have been late to realize that the business might be too small to stand alone. Competitors Novartis and Glaxo SmithKline merged their consumer businesses into a joint venture two years ago, and Boehringer Ingelheim swapped its consumer unit for Sanofi’s animal health business earlier this year.

“The company is already playing an expensive brand of catch-up in one of the hottest cancer-drug markets out there and in pharma generally. It can't afford to play the same game with its relatively tiny consumer health business. Raising cash and beginning to de-conglomerate is the way to go,” analysts for Bloomberg commented.

Merck has “thrown its M&A budget at its non-pharma business, such as the $17 billion acquisition of Sigma-Aldrich in 2015, and its $14 billion in debt means it still has some deleveraging to do,” Bloomberg added.

The company’s announcement of its plans for Consumer Health comes on the heels of recent successes in ethical drug fields, including the FDA’s approval of the immune-boosting cancer medicine Bavencio (Avelumab), marketed in the US by Pfizer, and the EU’s granting marketing permission for Mavenclad (Cladribine tablets) to treat highly active relapsing multiple sclerosis.

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