The major players are always on the look–out for value-adding acquisitions and Germany’s Bayer is no exception, though its next foray could be into consumer health rather than pharmaceuticals.

Speaking after the firm’s spring conference in Leverkusen, Bayer Healthcare chairman Arthur Higgins noted that there is no desire to get rid of its consumer health division despite the appeals for divestiture from analysts over the past few years, and pointed to another strong performance from the unit in 2007. Sales were up 6.9% to 4.54 billion euros, driven by revenues from products such as the firm’s branded aspirin (which brought in 460 million euros), the painkiller Aleve (naproxen), the vitamin C tablet Berocca and Canesten (clotrimazole), an antifungal treatment.

Mr Higgins told PharmaTimes World News that consumer health is a great business as it “balances the volatility of pharma”. He also said that the conditions for growth for that segment are better and such products become substantial brands that enter the public’s perception. Furthermore they stay on the market far longer than pharmaceuticals and this will only continue as society’s desire for more healthy lifestyles continues.

Mr Higgins would not be drawn specifically on any acquisition target within the sector but noted that it is an area that Bayer is committed to growing. He added that he was in total agreement with GlaxoSmithKline’s outgoing chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier, and his successor Andrew Witty, who have both recently championed the importance of consumer health to their business strategies.

Also important is the growth of pharmaceutical sales of emerging markets and Mr Higgins singled out Russia, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico, as well as China, as countries where Bayer is aiming for low double-digit expansion in 2008. He added that the ‘emerging market’ tag is something of a misnomer “as we are stronger in some of them than we are in Germany”, but the firm is looking to boost its presently-small presence.

Mr Higgins also told PharmaTimes World News that the challenges facing the industry at present in terms of getting innovative drugs onto the market are considerable. “We are facing higher hurdles in terms of risk/benefit”, he noted but “that is a good thing”, though he is a little concerned by the plethora of meta-analyses that are coming out and damaging the reputation of treatments that are still of enormous benefit to patients.

He said that the firm is in no way dismissive of meta-analyses, especially in terms of their usefulness when it comes to updating labelling, but these later studies are putting more pressure on regulatory agencies and he hopes the latter will continue to “not succumb to that pressure.” Mr Higgins concluded by saying that as an industry, “we have to be very transparent and continue what we are doing” and emphasis that drugs that offer benefits do come with side effects.