Pfizer is considering the sale of its over-the-counter medicines unit, which has annual revenues of nearly $4 billion.

In a statement released yesterday, the world’s largest drugmaker confirmed that it is ‘exploring strategic alternatives’ for the Pfizer Consumer Healthcare unit, including retaining the business, selling it or spinning it out as an independent company.

“The objective of the review is to unlock the value of the business for Pfizer shareholders at a time when market valuations are attractive for large, high-quality consumer businesses, it said.

Pfizer is due to provide an overview of its overall business and financial strategy, including key products and its pipeline, at a meeting with financial analysts on February 10, and said it would provide further details on its plans for the consumer health business at that time.

Pfizer’s activities in the OTC sector stem mainly from its acquisition of Warner-Lambert in 2000. Its product range includes Listerine mouth wash and Benadryl for colds and allergies.

Sales of the consumer business rose 10% to $3.9 billion in 2005, as overall revenues fell 2% to $51.3 billion on the back of patent losses on key product lines such as Norvasc (amlodipine), the loss of revenues from its COX-2 inhibitor franchise and more competition in the marketplace for its cholesterol-lowerer Lipitor (atorvastatin).

Pfizer announced a cost-cutting programme last year, aimed at saving $4 billion a year by 2008, to help it ride out the downturn in its fortunes.