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Sanofi latest pharma co. to reach over the counter

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NEW YORK —Sanofi-Aventis is the latest pharma powerhouse to make the move toward over-the-counter medicine with its Chattem merger—Pfizer’s acquisition of Wyeth and the Merck/Schering-Plough merger preceded it—which is further substantiation that OTC medicines are a key growth driver for pharma companies.

More than that, OTC represents a steady revenue stream for pharma companies, as opposed to the more volatile prescription-drug development market. “It…is very clearly aligned with our willingness to move away from the dependence on blockbuster medicines dominated in the United States and Europe, and have more diversified platforms that move us away from patents,” said Chris Viehbacher, Sanofi-Aventis CEO.

And OTCs are a growth industry, Viehbacher said, having 4% annual growth globally and more than 3% in the United States. “There is an increased propensity for self-medication,” he said. “Even in Western Europe and the United States, where access to primary care physicians is becoming more difficult,…the pharmacist is becoming a more critical player and also, therefore, are OTC medicines.”

Sanofi has stated it will push its own second-generation antihistamine Allegra through the Rx-to-OTC switch process very soon. Allegra currently boasts some 23 million prescriptions despite generic competition. Other future switch candidates include the anti-fungal Penlac, acne prescription BenzaClin and nasal allergy reliever Nasacort AQ.

The new Sanofi consumer healthcare division will be led by Chattem’s current management team, the company said.

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