(Adds comments by Bayer CEO, company background)
LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - Britain's Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc confirmed on Monday it was in talks to buy Merck & Co's consumer health business, the latest asset up for grabs in a wave of recent pharmaceutical deals.
The consumer products group over the weekend emerged as a front runner in the auction for the unit, best known for Coppertone sunscreen and Claritin allergy medicine, sources told Reuters on Saturday. Germany's Bayer AG is also vying to buy the unit, which could fetch about $13.5 billion.
"RB confirms that it is in discussions with Merck regarding an offer for its consumer health business," the company said on Monday. "We understand that we are part of a competitive process."
Bayer Chief Executive Marijn Dekkers indicated on Monday that the company still aims to be the world leader in over-the-counter medicines. While acquiring Merck's consumer health business would go a long way toward achieving that goal, he did not tip his hand on the Merck bidding process after Bayer announced its first-quarter results.
Dekkers, on a conference call with analysts, said in order to become world No. 1 in OTC the company needed not only significant organic growth but also "bolt-on acquisitions."
Reuters reported on Saturday that Merck was in the final stages of selling the consumer business for close to $14 billion and that the price could go higher in the final days of bidding.
Reckitt owns over-the-counter medicines, including Mucinex and Nurofen and the international rights for the Scholl foot care business. Germany's Bayer has a strong portfolio of consumer products, including pain medication Aleve and antacid Alka-Seltzer. (Reporting by Paul Sandle in London; additional reporting by Marilyn Gerlach in Frankfurt and Bill Berkrot in New York; editing by Kate Holton and Matthew Lewis)