Reckitt Benckiser confirms bidding for Merck & Co's consumer health business

British consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc yesterday confirmed media reports that it was in talks to buy Merck & Co Inc's consumer health business.

Reckitt Benckiser confirms bidding for Merck & Co's consumer health businessSlough–based Reckitt Benckiser has emerged as a front runner in the auction, although Bayer AG, Novartis, and Procter & Gamble Co are among the companies that are also in the race, according to media reports.

"RB confirms that it is in discussions with Merck regarding an offer for its consumer health business," the company said in a release. "We understand that we are part of a competitive process."

Reuters had on Saturday reported that Merck was in the final stages of selling the consumer business for close to $14 billion and the price could go higher in the final days of bidding.

Merck's consumer healthcare unit is best known for its allergy medicine Claritin, Coppertone sunscreen protection range, Dr Scholls footcare products, constipation treatment MiraLax, Afrin nasal decongestant, Lotrimin and Tinactin antifungals, and Oxytrol – the first over-the-counter treatment for overactive bladder in women.

Merck's profit declined last year due to generic competition to its top-selling drug Singulair, and an inability to introduce new drugs after research setbacks.

The drugmaker has been axing thousands of jobs even as it looks to boost demand for existing products to overcome the loss of revenue from Singulair Maxalt and Temodar.

According to analysts, investors are looking for Merck to restructure and perhaps sell off non-pharmaceutical units.

Last year it sold some of its active pharmaceutical ingredients to Aspen Pharmacare, South Africa's biggest pharmaceutical company.

Reckitt Benckiser owns over-the-counter medicines, including Disprin and Strepsils throat lozenges, Mucinex cough syrup, Gaviscon antacid, pain-relief medication Nurofen and the international rights for the Scholl foot care business.

A deal would catapult Reckitt Benckiser from the ninth place to the third in the global consumer health industry.