Pfizer Bulks Up Before the Breakup


It's looking increasingly less likely that Pfizer (NYS: PFE) will spin out or sell its consumer health division. Yesterday, the pharma giant licensed the rights to sell an over-the-counter version of AstraZeneca's (NYS: AZN) Nexium.

The price tag wasn't cheap: $250 million plus milestones and royalty payments based on product launches and sales. Of course, the prescription version of the purple pill raked in nearly $8 billion globally last year, so assuming Pfizer can persuade regulatory bodies to allow the switch, the investment should pay off. There's certainly precedent for allowing the switch: Procter & Gamble's (NYS: PG) Prilosec OTC and Takeda's Prevacid 24HR are both OTC versions of prescription drugs.

In addition to OTC Nexium, which is slated for a U.S. launch in 2014, Pfizer and AstraZeneca are exploring partnerships on other AstraZeneca drugs that might be appropriate for over-the-counter status. Pfizer has first right of refusal for the OTC rights to AstraZeneca's allergy medication Rhinocort Aqua.

Curiously, AstraZeneca has a long-standing deal with Merck (NYS: MRK) to sell Nexium and Prilosec, which was restructured in June to allow AstraZeneca to buy out Merck in 2014. Merck has a consumer health division as well, but it appears AstraZeneca felt it could do better with Pfizer. Or maybe Pfizer wanted it more.

Pfizer is in the midst of a breakup, selling its nutrition business and spinning off its animal health division, Zoetis. It seemed possible that it would divest of its consumer health division as well. Pfizer sold its first consumer health division to Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) after all; the current one was inherited in the Wyeth acquisition.

Sometimes people redo their kitchens to make the house more attractive to buyers, but this long-term move seems more like a signal that Pfizer is in consumer health for the long haul than a move to gussy up the division to make it more attractive to potential acquirers.

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