To sell or not to sell? These days, Big Pharma has to ask

Will the rest of Big Pharma follow in Pfizer ($PFE) and Abbott Laboratories' ($ABT) footsteps? Certainly, Pfizer's animal health spin-off and unit sales have sparked talk--and not only about a bigger break-up down the line. And as a Reuters analysis notes, Abbott Laboratories' successful spin-off of AbbVie ($ABBV), its pharma unit, only added to the speculative fire.

To Ernst & Young's Jeff Greene, the Pfizer and Abbott deals augur more to come. "We will see more," Greene told Reuters. "[T]here is going to be a focus on rationalizing portfolios."

In other words, companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) will keep sifting through their operations for business units and assets that would be better off in other hands. Bristol-Myers reaped some $7 billion in a spin-off of its nutrition unit, Mead Johnson, back in 2009. Earlier this week, the company said it was licensing out a basket of over-the-counter brands sold in Latin America for $483 million.

Other drugmakers aren't necessarily built for big break-ups and sell-offs. European pharma companies are more globalized, UBS analyst Gbola Amusa told Reuters. And that means a wider range of product types are considered "core" to companies like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Sanofi ($SNY). Indeed, both companies' strategies are built around diversification. Novartis' ($NVS), too.

Still, that doesn't mean they wouldn't sell some assets here and there, such as GSK's unloading of a diverse group of consumer-drug products, and its possible sale of two drinks brands. That kind of judicious closet-cleaning may be just the thing for these companies. But it's not as exciting--or chatter-worthy--as Pfizer's unit-shedding.

- see the Reuters story