Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble is looking at pulling out of pharmaceuticals and has hired Goldman Sachs to help it identify potential buyers for its drugs, according to the Financial Times.

The newspaper claims that P&G, which is arguably best-known for personal care, household cleaning and laundry products, as well as disposable nappies, “has been working actively” to focus on high-growth businesses and divest non-key assets. The company’s healthcare unit is strong, however, and posted sales of $14.6 billion in sales and $2.5 billion in net income for 2008.

However most of that comes from products such as the over-the-counter version of AstraZeneca's antiulcerant Prilosec (omeprazole) and Pepto-Bismol for heartburn and upset stomachs, while sales of pharmaceuticals only accounted for around $2 billion. Its leading treatment in that area is the osteoporosis drug Actonel (risedronate), marketed with Sanofi-Aventis.

The FT noted remarks made by P&G chief executive AG Lafley to analysts in December where he said that the company had stopped investing in new drug development and would consider divesting some of its key pharma brands. He added that when P&G had been investing heavily in pharmaceuticals in the 1990s, the returns had been well above those from consumer products, which is no longer the case.

Mr Lafley also spoke about greater regulatory obstacles within pharma and increased competition from generics, so divestitures were possible, thus “creating maximum value for P&G shareholders”. Almost three years ago, P&Gamble said it would move out of early-stage drug research and, instead, will snap up new compounds from external sources.

The firm has declined to comment on the FT story.