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Bayer's bid for Merck's health care group strengthened by Reckitt Benckiser's withdrawal

Germany's Bayer AG health care group is a leading contender for the purchase of US group Merck & Co's consumer health business, according to Reuters.

Bayer's position has been strengthened by British company Reckitt Benckiser Group's decision not to continue active talks with Merck in relation to the sale, Reuters said.

The Merck offering includes the Coppertone sunscreen brand and the Claritin allergy medicines brand.

According to the news agency, following Reckitt Benckiser's withdrawal, chief executive Rakesh Kapoor said in an emailed statement: "We are a highly disciplined acquirer with strict return metrics, which we will not break. The consumer health market remains highly fragmented and we will continue to evaluate opportunities that fit both our strategic and financial criteria."

Bayer has offered to swap its animal health assets, worth $1.8 billion sales annually, for Merck's consumer business and pay the remainder of the price in cash, Reuters said, citing people familiar with the matter.

The sale has also attracted interest from other healthcare and consumer giants including Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi SA, Procter & Gamble Co and Novartis AG, Reuters has reported, and it remains unclear whether Bayer will be the successful bidder.

Both Bayer and Merck have declined to comment on the sale, Reuters said.

Bayer, which focuses on health care, agriculture and high-tech polymer materials, includes over-the-counter remedies such as Alka-Seltzer and Aleve in its portfolio.

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