CHEMICAL: Unilever and P&G fined for price fixing

The European Commission (EC) has fined Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever, two giants in the consumer products area, €315 million (£278 million) for price fixing of laundry detergents. Unilever will pay €104 million, and P&G €211 million. Henkel was also in the cartel, which lasted at least three years, but Henkel has escaped financial penalties by blowing the whistle on the other two.

According to the EC, the three companies are the leading producers of washing powders in Europe. The cartel grew out of an initiative to improve the environmental performance of detergents.

PHARMACEUTICAL: Novartis invests in cannabis products

Swiss drugmaker Novartis has signed a licensing deal with UK company GW Pharmaceuticals, which specialises in drugs based on cannabis. Novartis will pay $5 million (£3 million) upfront for exclusive commercialisation rights to the lead GW product, Sativex (tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol), in Australia, New Zealand, Asia (excluding Japan, China and Hong Kong), the Middle East (excluding Israel and Palestine) and Africa. GW will be responsible for the manufacture and supply of Sativex.

Sativex is approved in several countries for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS). In addition, it is in Phase III trials for the treatment of pain caused by cancer. 

CHEMICAL: Rhodia sells salicylic units

Chemical company Rhodia has said it is selling its salicylic and acetaminophen activities to Novacap. The move comes in the wake of the €3.4 billion deal to merge Rhodia with fellow chemical company Solvay.

Rhodia says that its salicylates business is the last of its pharma business, the bulk of which it sold to Indian company Shasun Chemicals and Drugs in 2006. The principal production sites for salicylic and acetaminophen activities in France, Thailand, China and Brazil, and employ 390 people. Salicylates are widely used in the pharma industry, notably the production of aspirin.

PHARMACEUTICAL: GSK divests non-prescription parts

UK-based pharma company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has identified the ‘non-core’ over-the-counter brands it is planning to divest as it refocuses its activities. The company said in February that it was planning to divest some of its consumer products business.

The 19 brands to be divested had 2010 sales of £500 million. The list includes analgesic Solpadeine (paracetamol plus others) feminine hygiene product Lactacyd (lactic acid) and obesity drug Alli (orlistat). GSK is aiming to sell the brands by late 2011.

The move follows the sale of the Pfizer capsule business, Capsugel, a few weeks ago, which provoked much speculation about whether Pfizer was embarking on a broader plan of divesture.

CHEMICAL: Reckitt Benckiser boss retires unexpectedly

Bart Becht will retire as chief executive of UK-based consumer products giant Reckitt Benckiser later this year. He will be succeeded by Rakesh Kapoor, executive vice president global category development, who will become chief executive on 1 September. 

The unexpected move has surprised the markets, and wiped £2 billion off the value of the company. Becht is arguably best known to the general public for his high pay, which hit the dizzy heights of £90 million in 2009. But in financial circles, he has been widely praised for increasing profits by cutting costs internally and consequently boosting the market value of the company.

Reckitt Benckiser makes a wide range of consumer products including Durex condoms, Dettol antiseptic products and analgesic Nurofen (ibruprofen). In 2010, it made sales of £8.5 billion.

Andrew Turley

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