Merck & Co is to pocket $175 million following the sale of its 50% stake in a consumer health joint venture to partner Johnson & Johnson.

The healthcare giant has completed the acquisition of full ownership of the Johnson & Johnson-Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals Co JV in the USA and also in Canada. It will be renamed McNeil Consumer Pharmaceuticals Co and will continue to market products such as the heartburn relief treatment Pepcid (famotidine).

Merck says it decided to sell "to fully focus on building the long-term growth prospects of the wholly-owned consumer products division" that had been part of Schering-Plough prior to the firms' 2009 merger. Its rights to the Pepcid brand outside North America are not affected by the deal.

The New Jersey-based giant added that termination of the JV "also gives Merck greater freedom to operate in the over-the-counter consumer sector", allowing the firm to "fully exploit its pipeline of Rx-to-OTC switches" as well as "actively pursue OTC licensing activities in the USA and Canada".

The ending of the venture, which was formed in 1989, will also see ownership of a manufacturing facility located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania transfer to McNeil.