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Pfizer has traditionally been the world's biggest drug company, with a huge global sales force and a strong portfolio of "blockbuster" prescription drugs. (Rival Johnson & Johnson is larger by total healthcare revenues). It retained that position for more than two decades with a series of aggressive acquisitions of smaller rivals - including Warner Lambert, Pharmacia, Wyeth and Hospira - and that process reached its peak in 2015 with the attempt to acquire Allergan for an astronomical $160bn in cash and debt. Yet that mammoth deal was eventually blocked in 2016 as a result of changes in US tax rules, and instead Pfizer has embarked on a new strategy that values focus above sheer size. It has gradually set about divesting non-core operations to concentrate purely on patent-protected prescription drugs. It had already spun off its animal health division to form global leader Zoetis. At the end of 2018 it announced plans to spin off its consumer healthcare as well into a joint venture controlled by rival GSK. In 2019, it agreed to spin off its off-patent and generic drug division - now known as Upjohn - into smaller competitor Mylan. That process completed towards the end of 2020. Pfizer owns a majority stake in the new company - renamed Viatris - but will ultimately reduce its holding. Several of Pfizer's established products, including Lipitor, Lyrica, Enbrel and Viagra, transferred to Viatris. Instead, the remaining Pfizer will focus on its collection of more lucrative patent-protected drugs. The slimmed-down portfolio is led by the pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar (sales of $5.9bn in 2020) and cancer drug Ibrance ($5.4bn). It shares ownership of Eliquis with Bristol-Myers Squibb (contributing revenues of $4.9bn in 2020). Other blockbusters include Xeljanz for arthritis ($2.4bn), new launch Vyndaqel/Vyndamax (a rare diseases treatment with first year sales of $1.3bn) and Xtandi for prostate cancer ($1.0bn). Another former blockbuster, the anti-smoking drug Chantix, slipped below $1bn in 2020 to $919m, but new launch, breast cancer treatment Inlyta, is on course to hit blockbuster status in 2021. Sales for 2020 jumped by 66% to $787m. For 2019, Pfizer's revenues slipped back to $51.8bn, partly as a result of the consumer healthcare sale mid-year. The figure for 2020, following the spin-off of Viatris, was $41.9bn, up 2% on a like-for-like basis. Net income was $9.6bn. Albert Bourla succeeded Ian Read as CEO at the end of 2018. In 4Q 2020, Pfizer and development partner BioNTech became the first drug companies to secure regulatory approval for a Covid-19 vaccine. The first non-test patients were injected in the UK in early December, and in the US a few days later. Pfizer said that the vaccine could contribute additional sales of $15bn or more during 2021.

Capsule checked 29th January 2020

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Adbrands Daily Update 29th Jul 2019: In another significant alteration of its portfolio, Pfizer has agreed to merge its off-patent "established" drug division, now known as Upjohn, into smaller rival Mylan. The latter is best-known for EpiPen, and a collection of generic products. Under the proposed deal, it will absorb Pfizer's sizeable portfolio of patent-expired household name products including Viagra, Lipitor, Norvasc and Lyrica. Pfizer's shareholders will end up with around 57% of the merged entity, which would be led by Upjohn CEO Michael Goettler. That deal, together with the spin-off of Pfizer's consumer healthcare business into GSK, will reduce Pfizer to its core patent-protected prescription pharmaceutical division. Sales from that business in 2018 were $33.3bn, compared to $53.6bn for the whole group pre-divestments. The new Upjohn/Mylan entity - its name has not yet been confirmed - will have sales of around $20bn.

Adbrands Daily Update 18th Jun 2019: Pfizer is back in the acquisition business, though not quite at the levels of previous deals. In his first purchase since becoming CEO, Albert Bourla agreed to buy oncology drug developer Array BioPharma for around $11.4bn. The smaller company already markets twin drugs Mektovi and Braftovi, which are used to treat melanoma and are also experiencimng positive results for bowel cancer. It also has a revenue stream from royalties for several other drugs which it originally developed but have been licensed to other groups.

Adbrands Daily Update 30th Jan 2019: Pfizer's new CEO Albert Bourla ruled out the possibility of big acquisitions in the near future, and reaffirmed his focus on "innovation for growth". In its favour, the group has no major impending patent expiries and is also sitting on what Bourla called Pfizer's "greatest pipeline ever" of new drugs. "We need to maximize the chances of achieving the potential of those new launches," he said, and the challenges of a big acquisition would "derail us". Yet the forecast for the current year is flat or worse, not least with the expected demerger of consumer healthcare in 3Q. Revenues for 2018 edged up just 2% on an operational basis to $53.6bn and net income almost halved to $11.2bn. That was partly the result of an unfavourable comparison with big tax gains in the year-ago 4Q, but also a substantial impairment charge in the most recent year. Most of Pfizer's main blockbusters notched up modest or better increases in 2018, with the exception of Viagra, sales of which plunged following its switch to OTC. That was countered by welcome rebounds for older products like Lipitor and Norvasc which had been in steady decline, and also newly earned blockbuster status for anti-smoking drug Chantix. As a result, Pfizer finished 2018 with nine $1bn-plus sellers, one more than it had the previous year.

Adbrands Daily Update 19th Dec 2018: It's never too late in the year for a game-changing deal. GlaxoSmithKline will become the biggest player by far in global OTC medicines after agreeing to take control of Pfizer's equivalent business in an arrangement that mirrors GSK's previous partnership with Novartis, which it now wholly owns. A new joint venture is to be created, with ownership split 68/32% between GSK and Pfizer, combine both companies' OTC products. Pfizer had been investigating options for divesting its own consumer health division for some time. An auction earlier this year failed to solicit suitable offers. GSK CEO Emma Walmsley said she intends to spin off the resulting business before 2022 as an entirely separate entity, leaving GlaxoSmithKline itself as a dedicated prescription pharmaceutical and vaccines developer. Following completion, the new business will have sales of around $12.7bn.

Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Oct 2018: Ian Read, CEO of drug group Pfizer, will pass over that role at the end of this year to current COO Albert Bourla, a 25-year veteran of the company. Read has been CEO since the end of 2010; he will remain executive chairman.

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