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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 was larger by total healthcare revenues because of its portfolio of medical devices). Pfizer 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 blocked in 2016 as a result of changes in US tax rules, and instead Pfizer embarked on a new strategy that values focus above sheer size. It 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. Albert Bourla succeeded Ian Read as CEO in 2018, and began a restructuring of the group's portfolio. Pfizer announced plans to spin off its consumer healthcare as well into a joint venture controlled by rival GSK. In 2019, it agreed to de-merge its off-patent and generic drug division Upjohn into smaller competitor Mylan. That process completed towards the end of 2020. Pfizer owns a majority 57% 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 slimmed-down Pfizer is focused on its collection of more lucrative patent-protected drugs. The undoubted star in this collection is Covid vaccine Comirnaty. 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. Total sales for 2021 were a record-setting $37bn, including a small contribution from oral follow-up vaccine Paxlovid, approved for use at the end of the year. As a result, group revenues almost doubled in 2021 to $81.3bn, while net income more than doubled to almost $22.0bn. Pfizer's other blockbuster drugs also did well in 2021. Top of the class for the first time was thrombosis treatment Eliquis (revenues are shared with Bristol-Myers Squibb), sales from which jumped by 21% to just under $6.0bn. Cancer drug Ibrance enjoyed a more modest uplift to $5.4bn, while pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar - Pfizer's best-seller in 2020 - slipped to $5.3bn. Other blockbusters include Xeljanz for arthritis ($2.5bn), rare diseases treatment Vyndaqel/Vyndamax ($2.0bn), Xtandi for prostate cancer ($1.2bn) and Enbrel in international markets (Amgen has rights in North America) at $1.2bn. Breast cancer treatment Inlyta was the newest addition to the blockbuster portfolio at just over $1.0bn.

Capsule checked 9th August 2021

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Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Adbrands Update 10th May 2022: Pfizer is using some more of its pot of Comirnaty gold to expand its portfolio. It has agreed to acquire all the remaining shares in Biohaven Pharma, in which it already has a 2.5% stake, for $11.6bn. It's a handsome sum for a company whose revenues are expected to come in at around $900m or less in 2022. However, the deal gives Pfizer control of Biohaven's promising migraine drug Nurtec ODT, which is being marketed as "the EpiPen of migraine", as well as other compounds. Sales could ultimately top $6bn annually.

Adbrands Update 9th Feb 2022: As expected, Pfizer smashed all records for pharmaceutical sales in 2021 as a result of the extraordinary success of Covid vaccine Comirnaty, sales of which came in at almost $37bn, a global record for single-year sales of any drug. That's only the beginning: Pfizer anticipates that Comirnaty will decline to $32bn in 2022 but oral follow-up Paxlovid will take up the slack with sales expected to hit $22bn. The group's full year sales soared by 95% to $81.3bn in 2021 while net income more than doubled to $22.0bn.

Adbrands Daily Update 14th Dec 2021: Pfizer is using some of its growing cash pile to snap up smaller developer Arena Pharmaceuticals for $6.7bn. The target business has a promising treatment for Crohn's and other inflammatory bowel diseases in late stage testing. Analysts expect numerous other deals to follow, funded by the deluge of cash generated by Pfizer's Covid vaccine Comirnaty. One analyst noted Pfizer might feasibly spend as much a $130bn on acquisitions during the course of 2022.

Adbrands Daily Update 28th Jul 2021: Pfizer updated guidance for expected sales of its Covid vaccine Comirnaty, which is firmly on course to be the best-selling pharmaceutical product of all time. Pfizer now expects sales this year to top $33.5bn, but Bernstein Research analyst Ronny Gal predicts the actual total will be even higher. "The numbers are going to be much higher," he wrote in a research note. "The guidance of $33.5bn reflects contracts signed to today which reflect total commitment to sell 2.1m doses (at average price of $15.95). Pfizer notes they expect to manufacture 3m doses. Presumably much of those will be sold as well, albeit at lower average price as consumption shifts to emerging markets. This is probably another $10bn." A total of $43.5bn would be more than double the sum achieved by any previous in a single year.

Adbrands Daily Update 21st Apr 2021: Covid vaccines aren't just a lifesaver for the global population, they're also going to be a huge moneymaker for the drug developers who got to market with the most stable products. The biggest winners are likely to be Pfizer and Moderna, the pharma groups who opted for mRNA technology for their vaccine products, which have so far avoided the medical and technical concerns which have dogged AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Bernstein Research's senior analyst Ronny Gal estimates revenues for Pfizer from its Covid vaccine Comirnaty reaching a staggering $24bn this year. That's four times the size of the company's current portfolio leader Prevnar. Pfizer itself predicts that booster injections will also be required, possibly on an annual basis, to maintain protection. That makes this a longterm cash generator. Moderna's vaccine could generate around $14bn, an extraordinary figure for a company whose combined revenues in 2020 were just $803m.

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