* Omega Pharma paying 470 mln euros for European products
* GSK to return 310 mln pounds net proceeds to shareholders
* Alli on hold, need to resolve Roche supply interruption
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, March 15 - GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to sell several over-the-counter healthcare brands in Europe to Belgium’s Omega Pharma for 470 million euros ($612 million), while delaying the divestment of its weight-loss pill Alli.
The decision to put the sale of Alli on hold follows an interruption in supplies from Roche, which makes the active ingredient for the product, a company spokeswoman said.
Net cash proceeds from the sale to Omega are expected to be approximately 310 million pounds ($486 million), which will be returned to shareholders during 2012, GSK said on Thursday.
Reuters had earlier reported that Omega was among those seeking to buy the European products, which include painkiller Solpadeine, Zantac for stomach acid, hayfever spray Beconase, and vitamin and feminine hygiene lines with combined sales of 185 million pounds in 2011.
As part of the agreement, Omega will acquire the Herrenberg manufacturing site in Germany, which employs 110 people.
GSK sold a range Of non-prescription products in North America to Prestige Brands Holdings for 426 million pounds in December, after failing in its initial plan to find a single global buyer.
GSK first announced in February 2011 that it planned to dispose of non-core brands sold primarily in North America and Europe and representing about 10 percent of its consumer health portfolio, in order to focus on priority brands and emerging markets.
Alli, an over-the-counter (OTC) weight-loss drug that has been the subject of health concerns, was the biggest single product in the portfolio, with global sales in 2011 of 93 million.
It was once touted as major seller by GSK but is no longer seen as a central driver for the consumer health operation.
Although GSK still plans to sell Alli, it said the process had been delayed pending the resolution of a temporary supply interruption with Roche. The Swiss company manufactures the active ingredient, orlistat, which is also the active substance in Roche’s prescription-only drug Xenical.
Alli is a low-dose version of Xenical.
The spokeswoman said GSK was working with Roche to rectify the problem as soon as possible, adding it was a production-related issue and had nothing to do with safety.
There have been concerns about potentially serious health problems connected with orlistat, although the European Medicines Agency concluded last month that its benefits for obese patients outweighed the risk of very rare liver-related side effects and kidney issues.
GSK said it also remained in discussions about divesting non-core OTC brands in markets outside of Europe and North America with combined sales of around 60 million pounds.
Omega, which delisted its shares last month, said it would gain critical mass in Germany, Britain, Poland and Italy by buying the GSK brands.
The company is a stand-alone OTC medicines company, ranking just outside the top 10 in that market and competing with the OTC arms of pharma giants such as Johnson & Johnson and GSK, as well as those of consumer product groups like Procter & Gamble and Reckitt Benckiser.