FRANKFURT/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Generic drug maker Mylan NV is in advanced discussions to acquire Merck KGaA's consumer health business after other bidders failed to meet the German company's price expectations, people familiar with the matter said.
"Although it's Mylan's policy to not comment on rumours or speculation, given the egregious inaccuracy of reports issued this morning, the company is compelled to confirm that the Reuters article is untrue," Mylan said in a statement on Friday.
A Mylan spokeswoman declined to offer details on what in the Reuters story was inaccurate. Merck declined to comment.
The precise value of Mylan's offer could not be established but the sources said the companies were negotiating a price between 3.5 billion and 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion-$4.9 billion).
There is no certainty that Mylan will secure a deal, the sources said, adding that Merck had also been in talks with private equity groups on the asset.
The sources, who spoke this week, asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.
Mylan shares fell as much as 3.7 percent on Friday but pared losses to trade down 1.2 percent at $40.75 in the afternoon.
Mylan's talks with Merck came as other contenders for the business, including Nestle and Reckitt Benckiser, dropped out of the bidding.
Merck said last year it was looking to sell its consumer healthcare business, which has annual sales of about $1 billion, to help fund its research into prescription drugs.
Mylan has in the past bought assets from the German rival, paying 5 billion euros in 2007 for Merck's generics business, which included branded drugs like EpiPen for treatment of life-threatening allergic reactions and DuoNeb for treatment of smokers' lung.
Consumer health is a fragmented sector ranging from over-the-counter medicines and vitamins to sports nutrition products and condoms.
It has proved fertile ground for deals in recent years, as aging populations and health-conscious consumers drive demand.
But the global consumer health market has slowed, from 4 to 6 percent like-for-like sales growth to zero to 3 percent growth, Morgan Stanley analysts said in December.
Major players in the over-the-counter market have been grappling with pricing pressure stoked by online players such as Amazon.com Inc and private label competitors.
However, buyers and sellers have struggled to agree on deals, as estimates differ over how commoditized many of these products are.
Pfizer Inc's sales process for its consumer health business, which it was hoping would fetch as much as $20 billion, has also stalled, sources have said.
Merck's over-the-counter brands up for sale include Neurobion vitamins and Seven Seas nutritional supplements.
Mylan has been looking for acquisitions to bolster growth. It said in February fourth-quarter earnings fell due to declining revenue from EpiPen and weak U.S. prices for generic drugs.
($1 = 0.8100 euro)
(Reporting by Arno Schuetze, Greg Roumeliotis, Ben Martin, Ludwig Burger, Martinne Geller, Patricia Weiss; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Matthew Lewis)