NEW YORK – Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY) Wednesday said it plans to divest its struggling U.S. and Canadian consumer medicines, including its Excedrin (search) painkiller, in a move that would tighten its U.S. focus on sales of more-profitable prescription drugs.
The products, which also include Keri hand lotion, Bristol's Choice line of nutritional products for diabetics and Comtrex cold and flu products, have annual North American sales of $240 million. That represents roughly 1 percent of the company's total annual global sales of almost $22 bica.
Global sales of Bristol's consumer medicines fell 5 percent in the third quarter, contributing to a sharp profit decline. Company earnings have also been hurt by patent expirations and waning sales of its Pravachol cholesterol fighter.
Recent published reports have said Bristol was considering the sale of its consumer brands in North America.
"But the process is just beginning," company spokesman Brian Henry said. "No negotiations have taken place so far."
Henry declined to say how much the products might fetch or identify the potential buyers. Industry analysts have speculated they include British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), diversified healthcare company Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and U.S. consumer products company Procter & Gamble (PG), all of which sell over-the-counter brands.
Henry said Bristol's consumer medicines have sales of $114 million in Japan. He declined to identify their sales outside North America, but said they are grouped in those markets as part of the company's core pharmaceuticals business.
Although Excedrin's sales have been flat in recent years, Bristol said another company heavily focused on the U.S. and Canadian consumer market could maximize potential sales of the headache treatment — by far its biggest consumer medicine.
Bristol-Myers, best known for prescription drugs like Pravachol and Plavix to prevent blood clots, recently said it is narrowing its focus to pharmaceuticals for 10 disease areas. They include cancer, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular problems such as clogged arteries and blood clots.
"Our strategic focus is these areas, as well as maximizing sales of prescription drugs we already have," Henry said.
Bristol last month said it would sell its Oncology Therapeutics Network, a business that distributes cancer drugs, which had 2003 revenue of more than $2 billion but low profit margins.
Even so, the company plans to hold onto other non-pharmaceuticals businesses that have performed better than its consumer medicines. They include its Mead Johnson infant formula, its ConvaTec wound care business and Bristol's medical imaging unit.
Shares of Bristol-Myers slipped 7 cents to $24.53 on the New York Stock Exchange.