Glaxo in £53m anti-obesity drug deal

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The Independent Online

GlaxoSmithKline, the UK's biggest drug maker, has bought the rights to market the world's first over-the-counter anti-obesity medicine from its Swiss rival Roche.

It is paying an initial $100m (£53m) and substantial further milestone and royalty payments for the US rights to orlistat, currently sold by Roche as a prescription drug under the brand name Xenical. The drug prevents the fat consumed in food from being fully absorbed.

GSK hopes to tap into the growing concern over obesity in the US, where one in five adults is obese and the problem is being classed as an epidemic. The deal comes as Roche sold its own over-the-counter drugs business in order to concentrate on prescription medicines.

Bayer of Germany said yesterday that it will acquire the business, which includes Rennie indigestion tablets and Berocca vitamins brands, for €2.4bn (£1.6bn). GSK had been an early participant in the auction but pulled out.

GSK will be in charge of steering orlistat through the regulatory approval process. It can take anything from six months to three years for the Food & Drug Administration to agree that a prescription drug could be made available over the counter. An initial filing will be made by GSK within months.

As Xenical, the drug had prescription sales of $122m in the US last year. Jack Ziegler, the president of GSK's consumer healthcare business, said: "We are very pleased that Roche has selected GSK to market OTC orlistat in the US. It is a unique, clinically proven medicine that helps committed people lose weight."

GSK's consumer healthcare division has annual sales of about £3.5bn, accounting for 15 per cent of the group. Roche said yesterday GSK had been chosen because of its experience of "switches", in which a prescription medicine is turned into an over-the-counter blockbuster. Nicorette patches for quitting smoking, Flixonase for hayfever and Zantac for heartburn were cited as GSK's previous successful switches.

Bayer's acquisition of Roche's consumer healthcare division makes it the world's number four in over-the-counter medicine, with annual sales of €2.4bn (£1.6bn) and a 5 per cent share of the market.