GlaxoSmithKline management could come under increasing pressure from its shareholders to sell off the UK drug major’s consumer healthcare division, claims The Times newspaper.

The rumour comes at a time when GSK’s share price has taken a thumping ever since the New England Journal of Medicine published a meta-analysis which suggested that the firm’s diabetes treatment Avandia might significantly increase the risk of heart attacks. The stock is down around 10% since the end of May, when the article came out, and is at its lowest levels for over years.

Indeed, Peter Cartwright, an analyst at Evolution Securities, told the newspaper that GSK’s share price "has gone nowhere for five years and investors are getting fed up.” He estimated that a sale of the consumer healthcare unit, which would allow GSK to focus on its core prescription medicine and vaccine businesses, could bring in between £9.3-£12.4 billion. The Times quoted an unnamed fund manager for one of GSK’s largest shareholders, with a holding of more than 1% as saying “prices paid for these types of businesses at the moment are huge, so it is a good time to sell”.

Another shareholder told the newspaper that GSK was “wide open” to receive a letter similar to that sent to mobile phone giants Vodafone last week by a hedge fund calling for greater returns to investors. “Unlike Vodafone, Glaxo’s share price is on its backside and they’d have more difficulty defending themselves,” the shareholder said.

Whether the will is there for GSK’s management to sell is highly unlikely. Sales at the unit in the first quarter rose 9% to £786 million, from over-the-counter medicines, Oral care products and nutritional drinks such as Lucozade, Horlicks and Ribena while this week the division said that alli (orlistat) the only approved OTC weight loss product which is a lower dose version of Roche's Xenical, is now on shelves of pharmacies, grocery stores and mass merchandisers all across the USA later this week.

Analysts predict that alli will be a blockbuster product in no time and GSK would be expected to reap the benefits itself. Early this year, chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier told PharmaTimes World News that he saw no need to get rid of a well-run business that provided consistent growth and long-term value.