Germany's Merck well advanced in talks to sell biosimilars unit

DARMSTADT, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's Merck KGaA MRCG.DE on Thursday said it was seeking a buyer for its biosimilars unit, confirming a Reuters report in October.

The chief executive of the maker of drugs, lab supplies and high-tech chemicals, Stefan Oschmann, said negotiations were far advanced but complex, speaking at a press conference after the release of full-year results.

Merck has been working since 2012 with Dr Reddy's of India in developing cheaper versions of blockbuster biotech drugs such as AbbVie's ABBV.N Humira, Roche's ROG.S Rituxan and Amgen's AMGN.O Neulasta but has not yet brought products to market.

The lineup of prospective suppliers of these compounds - called biosimilars because they are equivalent to the original drug in efficacy and safety but not exact replicas - is expected to see a shakeout amid harsh competition.

When asked about the future of Merck’s Consumer Health division, Oschmann said it was developing well, but added that every one of the group’s units would have to prove itself and would be under review on an ongoing basis.

The business with 860 million euros ($908 million) in 2016 sales is seen by many industry experts as lacking critical mass to compete with much larger rivals, which are seeking to further consolidate the non-prescription treatments industry.

Reporting by Patricia Weiss; Writing Ludwig Burger; Editing by Harro ten Wolde