Bristol-Myers Squibb nears $1.6B sale of OTC unit Upsa to Taisho: report

Bristol-Myers Squibb
BMS could join Novartis and Merck KGaA as Big Pharma players who have sold consumer health businesses this year. (Bristol-Myers Squibb)

Amid an industrywide shift away from the sector, Bristol-Myers Squibb is close to becoming the latest Big Pharma to exit consumer health. And word is Japan’s Taisho will be the one to help the company do it.

The two companies are nearing a deal for Upsa, BMS’ French OTC unit, Bloomberg’s sources said, adding that BMS could rake in $1.6 billion with a deal. An agreement could arrive as early as this week.

"No decision as to the future of the business has been made," a spokeswoman said by email, adding that the company "may also ultimately determine to retain and grow the business."

RELATED: Bristol-Myers Squibb looks to sell French OTC unit which could bring $1.8B: report

Bristol has been looking to offload the unit since June, when it announced a strategic review. Since then, rumors have swirled that players such as Stada and Procter & Gamble could come forth to nab Upsa, which sells painkillers, sleep drugs and more.

But if it’s in fact Taisho that walks away with the deal, it won’t be the first time the two parties have done business. In 2009, the Japanese drugmaker inked a pact to buy part of Bristol’s Asia-Pacific OTC business for $310 million, Bloomberg noted.

BMS, meanwhile, wouldn’t mind a cash infusion to help it double down on its targeted growth areas which include, of course, immuno-oncology. The company's Opdivo checkpoint inhibitor has lost its grip on the market’s top spot, but Bristol executives insisted during its third-quarter earnings call that the product would continue expanding next year.

RELATED: Opdivo will keep growing, Bristol-Myers says, trying to talk investors off the ledge

Meanwhile, a deal would put Bristol among the pharma giants who have stepped away from the consumer health sector this year. Novartis, for one, handed over its stake in its GlaxoSmithKline joint venture to GSK for $13 billion, while Merck KGaA sold its business to P&G for $3.8 billion.

But that group isn’t as big as some drugmakers would like. Pfizer tried unsuccessfully to hive off its own OTC offerings in the earlier part of the year. And Bayer, while not bailing out of consumer health altogether, is currently looking to shed sun-care line Coppertone and foot-care products Dr. Scholl’s.