Pfizer keeps piling onto consumer health business

Pfizer ($PFE) likes the growth potential in the over-the-counter niche, and so it keeps piling new products onto the unit from around the world, ignoring investors who would like to it unload the business and share the wealth. 

In its latest deal, the drugmaker picked up Polocard, a low-dose aspirin product made in Poland. The drugmaker bought the product, sold for treating heart-attack risk, from ZF Polpharma for an undisclosed amount. "Polocard is a top OTC brand in Poland," said Paul Sturman, president of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, in a statement.

This is only one of a number of acquisitions the company has made in the last 24 months to beef up the consumer health division. Last year, it struck a deal with AstraZeneca ($AZN) to pick up global over-the-counter rights to heartburn blockbuster Nexium for $250 million up front plus milestones and royalties. It is not yet approved in the U.S. for OTC sales, but when it gets that designation, probably next year, it will be Pfizer's consumer health unit that will reap the rewards.

Pfizer's OTC business is also big in vitamins. It has owned the Centrum multivitamin brand for some time. Last year, it added California-based Alacer to the mix. Alacer makes the Emergen-C products, the largest-selling branded Vitamin C line in the United States. Pfizer also sees potential outside of the U.S. for OTC brands. In 2011, it snapped up Danish vitamins company Ferrosan. That expanded its reach into the Nordics and Central Europe, as well as the emerging markets of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Some investors last year urged Pfizer to unload the consumer health business, as it did its nutritional unit, but CEO Ian Read decided he liked its potential. Pfizer is not alone in seeing a big upside to the consumer health field. Generics giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) and Procter & Gamble ($PG) this year started work on a manufacturing plant in India that will feed the consumer healthcare joint venture, PGT Healthcare, that they created a couple of years ago. They have said they expect to generate $4 billion in sales a year from the operation. On the flip side, Novartis ($NVS) is considering unloading its consumer health business as it looks to slim down operations and get more focused. 

- read the press release

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