Merck KGaA says consumer health saw 'nice' growth in 2015

DARMSTADT, Germany, Feb 23 (Reuters) - German drugs and chemicals group Merck KGaA has seen solid growth at its consumer healthcare business last year, underpinning the family-owned company’s commitment to holding on to the business.

The division, a relatively small player in the global over-the-counter (OTC) drugs market with brands such as Neurobion and Seven Seas vitamins, grew “nicely” in 2015, divisional head Uta Kemmerich-Keil told Reuters, declining to provide numbers.

“We are winning market share in the relevant markets,” she added. The company is due to publish 2015 results on March 8.

The fragmented over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and consumer health industry has seen a phase of rapid consolidation over recent years.

It was capped by an asset swap between Sanofi and Boehringer Ingelheim that will vault the French drugmaker into the number one spot in the industry with pro-forma 2015 sales of around 5.1 billion euros ($5.6 billion).

Previously, Bayer bought the consumer health business of U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co while Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline transferred their businesses into a joint venture in deals worth billions.

That dwarfs Merck KGaA’s consumer health operations, which had 766 million euros in 2014 sales and saw growth of 11.3 percent in the first nine months of 2015, when adjusted for currency swings.

While other drugmakers such as Merck & Co or Boehringer Ingelheim have recently hived off larger consumer health units to focus on other core businesses, the family behind Germany’s Merck KGaA has no intention of selling, Kemmerich-Keil said.

“We are an integral part of Merck and that is for good reason. We are contributing nicely to growth,” she added.

The division remained on track to post 1 billion euros in annual sales in four to five years’ time, helped by a focus on promising segments such as prenatal vitamins or cold remedies.

Smaller acquisitions, including the purchase of rights to technology such as new probiotic bacteria, would complement the unit’s organic growth, she added.

$1 = 0.9082 euros Editing by Maria Sheahan