By Lauren Hirsch, Olivia Oran and Carl O'Donnell
(Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc is evaluating a potential sale or spin-off of its consumer health division that could value the unit at as much as $14 billion, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
A Pfizer exit from the consumer health business, which includes lip balm Chapstick and painkiller Advil, would be one of its biggest corporate moves since abandoning a $160 billion deal to buy Irish drugmaker Allergan Inc earlier this year.
The deliberations are still in a preliminary stage and the New York-based pharmaceutical company may opt to retain the business, the people said.
The people asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Pfizer declined to comment.
Pfizer earlier this year decided against splitting itself into two companies, one housing its patent-protected drug business and one containing its generics business. Pfizer began openly planning for a possible split in early 2014, as a way to simplify its portfolio.
In Pfizer's most recent quarterly earnings call, Chief Executive Officer Ian Read said that Pfizer was continually evaluating whether its consumer business, along with other business lines, was worth more in or outside the company.
The consumer business had annual sales of about $3.5 billion.
If a sale or spin-off went ahead, Pfizer would be the latest pharmaceutical company to sell its consumer business to slim down its portfolio. Consumer drugs sold over the counter have far lower margins than prescription drugs.
In 2014, Merck & Co Inc sold its consumer care business, including the MiraLAX laxative, to Germany's Bayer AG in a $14.2 billion deal. In early 2015, drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Novartis AG agreed to merge their consumer health businesses through a joint venture, run by Glaxo as part of a $20 billion asset swap.
Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc's CEO, Rakesh Kapoor, last year said it would consider buying Pfizer's consumer unit if it were to come up for sale.
Pfizer has been one of most active acquirers in an otherwise sluggish year for pharmaceutical M&A. In August it bought cancer drugmaker Medivation for $14 billion. Earlier this year, it acquired dermatology company Anacor Pharmaceuticals for $5.2 billion.
(Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Andrew Hay)