Chemicals and technology group 3M said yesterday it is considering the sale of its pharmaceutical division, saying the unit would fare better in the hands of a dedicated drug company.

The sale would include 3M’s immune response modifier R&D, the marketed IRM Aldara (imiquimod) for skin cancer and genital warts, and other branded drug products in dermatology, women’s health, cardiology and respiratory medicine.

Aldara sales are runnng at around $250 million a year at present, well short of the $1.5 bllion that was predicted for the product back in 2001, and the performance of this product is thought to be the primary reason why the drug unit is on the block.

Sales of the division are estimated at around $700 million, according to analysts at Lehman Brothers, who said the divestment could bring in $3.5 billion to 3M. Other observers suggested 3M Pharma would most likely appeal to specialty pharmaceutical companies that are already active in dermatology and female health arenas.

3M said it would retain the other activities in its HealthCare business such as medical devices and bandages. Overall sales for the HealthCare unit were a little under $4.4 billion last year.

“In today's very competitive pharmaceutical marketplace, continued success requires broad pipelines of new drugs, significant investments, and a longer term risk-reward business model than applies to most other 3M businesses," said the copmany in a statement.

3M has retained Goldman Sachs to help it find a buyer for the business.