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Bayer AG, the maker of Alka-Seltzer and inventor of aspirin, agreed to buy Roche Holding AG's non-prescription drug unit for $3 billion, to become one of the top three sellers of over-the- counter medicines.

The expanded division will have annual sales of $3 billion. Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer will get Roche's 50 percent share of their U.S. joint venture, said Bayer, Germany's second-largest drug and chemical maker. Bayer gets Roche's Rennie antacid and Berocca brand vitamins.

The purchase brings Bayer nearer to consumer rivals GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Johnson & Johnson, with about 5 percent market share, Bayer said.

Bayer Chief Executive Werner Wenning is boosting his consumer unit as the prescription business struggles, having lost the patent for the antibiotic Cipro, which accounted for about a quarter of drug sales last year, and after the 2001 withdrawal of the cholesterol medicine, Baycol.

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