Johnson & Johnson drops out of the race for Pfizer consumer unit, paving the way for GSK, Reckitt

J&J logo on building
J&J won't bid for Pfizer's OTC unit before a Feb. 1 deadline, the company confirmed, but other consumer giants are said to be in the running. (Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson has plenty of money coming in from overseas, thanks to U.S. tax reform. But it won’t be spending it on Pfizer’s consumer health unit.

The New Jersey drugmaker has dropped out of the running ahead of the deadline to submit nonbinding offers, J&J confirmed Thursday.

“While we would normally not comment on market speculation or rumors, in this instance we refute assertions that we are in negotiation for Pfizer’s consumer business,” J&J VP of media relations told FiercePharma.

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RELATED: Sanofi, J&J could join GSK, Reckitt in $20B bidding war for Pfizer OTC

J&J, which snapped up Pfizer’s previous consumer health business for a cool $16.6 billion back in 2006, was considered a viable candidate for the current unit, and it’s about to bring home $12 billion in overseas cash thanks to new U.S. tax laws. But earlier this week, CEO Alex Gorsky told investors the company would put a good chunk of that change back into R&D, reminding them that J&J did more than $35 billion in deals last year.

Meanwhile, J&J stepping out of the picture could open things up for GlaxoSmithKline and Reckitt Benckiser, both of which have their eye on the consumer unit. And it could also hurt Pfizer’s negotiating power in the company's efforts to generate more than $20 billion from a sale, Reuters’ sources said.

That’s not to say there isn’t other competition out there. As one source told Reuters, Pfizer is likely to field five or six bids, and food giant Nestle—which is pushing deeper into the healthcare space to diversify away from its food business—is among them. Bids are due Feb. 1, the news service reports. Earlier this month, reports listed the Swiss company as the frontrunner in the race for Merck KGaA’s OTC unit, which is also up for sale.

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