By Tamara Mathias
(Reuters) - Merck and Co <MRK.N> said on Friday it will buy privately held French company Antelliq Group, which makes digital identification products for livestock, for about 2.1 billion euros (1.88 billion pounds) to bolster its fast-growing animal health business.
The move affirms the drugmaker's commitment to the business, which Wall Street analysts have long seen value in separating just as rival drugmakers Eli Lilly and Co <LLY.N> and Pfizer Inc <PFE.N> did.
Pfizer's Zoetis <ZTS.N> raised $2.2 billion in a 2013 IPO, while Elanco <ELAN.N>, the former animal health business at Lilly, raised $1.51 billion from an IPO in September.
Merck's Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Frazier had said in October that the company was a "good owner" of its animal health unit.
"We believe that we run this business very well inside the company compared to our competitors," he had said.
Merck's unit has been a big player in the animal health segment, bringing in sales of $3.88 billion in 2017. Zoetis recorded $5.31 billion in revenue, while Elanco brought Lilly $3.09 billion in sales the same year.
Merck said Antelliq will be a wholly owned and separately operated subsidiary within its animal health division.
Antelliq's products, which brought in 360 million euros ($406.51 million) in sales in the year ended Sept. 30, provide veterinarians, farmers and pet owners with digital technology that monitors animals and predicts disease in them.
These products allow access to real-time, actionable information to help improve livestock management and health outcomes, Merck said in a statement.
Merck will assume Antelliq's debt of 1.15 billion euros ($1.30 billion), which it intends to repay shortly after the closing of the deal, expected in the second quarter of 2019.
Private equity firm BC Partners currently owns a majority stake in Antelliq.
Merck's shares fell nearly 1 percent to $77.70 before the bell.
($1 = 0.8856 euros)
(Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)