OTC Allegra nod fortifies Sanofi's U.S. consumer ops

Sanofi-Aventis continues its diversification march. The company got the FDA's permission to sell its blockbuster allergy treatment Allegra without a prescription. Sanofi has been hoping for that OK to bolster its U.S. consumer healthcare business that was created last year with the $1.9 billion purchase of Chattem.

At the time, both companies trumpeted OTC Allegra's potential for big-time sales. The allergy drug brought in almost $2 billion when it didn't have any generic competition, and new formulations kept the franchise pumping. However, Allegra now faces more copycat rivals; U.S. sales dropped by 55 percent during the most recent quarter. An OTC version could help Sanofi to take back market shares.

Sanofi's plan is to hand over Allegra's OTC marketing to Chattem, which already has distribution channels in place. Drugstore shelves will get the new allergy med in March, Sanofi said. More Sanofi drugs are expected to get similar OTC treatment, the company said when it bought Chattem.

"Leveraging our U.S. Consumer Healthcare platform to convert prescription medicines to OTC products is a key growth driver for sanofi-aventis to become a diversified healthcare company also in the United States," said Hanspeter Spek, Sanofi's global operations president. Which drugs? Sanofi hasn't said yet. It has said that the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the worldwide consumer healthcare market, and that it intends to capture more of it.

- get the Sanofi press release
- see the story at Forbes
- check out the Reuters news
- read the Wall Street Journal story