Bayer buying Merck's non-prescription business for $14.2 billion

Coppertone, one of the over-the-counter products produced by Coppertone, one of the over-the-counter products produced by Merck is among the group being sold to Germany's Bayer AG for $14.2 billion, Bayer said on May 6, 2014. Photo Credit: AP

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FRANKFURT, Germany - Germany's Bayer has agreed to buy Merck & Co.'s nonprescription medicine and consumer care business for $14.2 billion, gaining products such as Claritin allergy pills, Coppertone sun lotion and Dr. Scholl's foot-care products.

Bayer said the deal would make it the leader in over-the-counter products in North and Latin America. Bayer already has a major nonprescription division whose brands include Aleve pain reliever, Alka-Seltzer and One-a-Day vitamins. Bayer also makes prescription drugs, industrial materials and farm chemicals.

Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers said the deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, "marks a major milestone on our path towards global leadership in the attractive nonprescription medicines business."

Bayer said it also has entered an agreement with Merck to cooperate on developing and selling drugs known as sGC modulators, which have potential for treating heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. Merck would initially pay Bayer $1 billion, with further payments contingent on sales.

Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier said the sale was part of an effort to align the company's businesses with its strategy of being the premier research-intensive drug company. Merck said it would use the money from the sale to invest in business areas with the highest growth potential and augment its drug pipeline with "external assets."

Merck, like other major drugmakers, has seen its pharmaceutical sales slide as cheaper generic versions of several drugs that once raked in billions have become available. Those include the asthma and allergy pill Singulair, the allergy spray Nasonex and the blood pressure drugs Cozaar and Hyzaar.

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Merck, which is headquartered in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, reported a 7 percent rise in first-quarter earnings late last month. But that was mainly thanks to steep cuts to administrative and marketing expenses and research spending. It reduced its global workforce by 2,000 in the quarter to 74,000.

The company has said it plans to rely on its pipeline of experimental drugs for future sales, which would make it an exception to the trend among many other drugmakers, which are pursuing big acquisitions to keep sales growing.

Earlier this month, a Food and Drug Administration panel voted against a Merck proposal to sell the drugmaker's one-time best-seller, Singulair, as an over-the-counter allergy medication. Sales of the drug have plummeted since its patent expired in mid-2012.

Bayer AG, which is based in Leverkusen, Germany, said the combined consumer care business would be headquartered at a Bayer site in Whippany, New Jersey. Merck's consumer business has about 2,250 employees and is headquartered in Summit, New Jersey,  about 10 miles from Whippany.

About 113,200 people work for Bayer worldwide, while Merck has about 74,000 employees.

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