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Bristol-Myers may sell drugstore line |

Bristol-Myers may sell drugstore line

| Thursday, January 6, 2005 12:00 a.m

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is in talks to sell its consumer over-the-counter drug line, which includes pain relievers Excedrin and Bufferin, cold medicine Comtrex and Keri lotions, according to published reports.

The pharmaceutical giant, which has struggled to restructure in the face of lost patents on key drugs, is working to shed noncore consumer products as it focuses on drugs to treat and prevent disease, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday on their Web sites, citing people familiar with the discussions.

A Bristol-Myers spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday.

The Times cited unnamed executives as saying UK-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc and some private equity firms were interested in the unit. A deal could happen as quickly as next week, executives told the Times.

Malesia Dunn, spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline’s Moon-based North American Consumer Healthcare unit, said the company does not comment on rumors.

If Glaxo were to acquire Bristol-Myers’ consumer brands, it could mean a boost in employment at the Moon headquarters, where about 500 work.

Glaxo sells the BC and Goody’s brand pain relief powders, primarily in the South, as well as Ecotrin coated aspirin. It also makes the Contac cold medication that competes with Comtrex.

It also makes Tums antacid tablets, AquafFresh toothpaste and Nicorette smoking-cessation products, among its more than 30 brands with about $1.6 billion in North American sales in 2003.

Analysts estimate the consumer medicines unit to be worth $700 million to $1 billion, the Times reported.

Bristol-Myers also sells cholesterol drug Pravachol, blood thinner Plavix, and cancer treatment Paraplatin. The company’s diabetes drug, Glucophage, and Paraplatin recently lost patent protection and sales have skidded.

The drug maker has been shedding noncore assets as it moves to sharpen its focus on drug discovery and marketing. Last month, New York-based Bristol-Myers sold its Oncology Therapeutics Network business to an affiliate of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for undisclosed terms. In 2001, it sold Clairol hair products line to Procter & Gamble Co. for $4.9 billion

The over-the-counter unit accounts for less than 2 percent of the company’s $21 billion in annual sales. David Moskowitz, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, had mixed feeling about the sale because while the business has low margins it also generates cash flow that helps maintain Bristol-Myers’ dividend. Numerous analysts have noted that the 4.5 percent dividend is helping prop up Bristol-Myers’ stock at a time when the company’s sales and profits are under pressure.

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