Germany's Bayer plans to buy U.S.-based Merck & Co.'s consumer health business, creating a combined medicine cabinet of household names such as Bayer's aspirin and Merck's Claritin allergy pills.
The $14.2-billion deal announced Tuesday would vault Bayer atop the nonprescription medicine business across North and Latin America. It would make Bayer No. 1 worldwide in skin and gastrointestinal products, a strong No. 2 in the huge cold and allergy category, and No. 3 in pain relievers.
"We are combining two highly complementary businesses with virtually no overlap that will improve our product position over multiple categories," said Marijn Dekkers, Bayer's chief executive.
Merck, widely considered the most research-driven U.S. pharmaceutical company, would divest a slow-growing business it inherited in 2009 when it bought Schering-Plough Corp. to get its experimental prescription medicines.
Bayer, which invented aspirin more than a century ago, already has a major over-the-counter division whose brands include Aleve pain reliever, Alka-Seltzer and One-A-Day vitamins. It would add Merck's Claritin, the Coppertone sun-care line, Dr. Scholl's foot-care products and MiraLax laxative.
The transaction is part of a recent surge in pharmaceutical industry deals. Some drug makers are selling or swapping business segments to focus on areas where they have the most expertise, marketing prowess and prospects for growth, as Merck is doing. Others, like Bayer, are making acquisitions to beef up their portfolios of products or experimental drugs to boost future sales.
Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier said in January that he was evaluating options for Merck's consumer and animal health businesses, both units without enough scale to grow quickly. On Tuesday, Merck said it would use the sale proceeds to invest in business areas with the highest growth potential and beef up its drug pipeline with "external assets."
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., is different from Germany's Merck. The American company is known as MSD, for Merck, Sharp & Dohme, outside the U.S. and Canada.