Pfizer is 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). The group became a household name in the late 1990s with its development of the break-through erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, which was at the time the world's fastest-selling pharmaceutical product. The company went on to strengthen its position with two ambitious acquisitions, snapping up partners Warner Lambert and Pharmacia to order to tighten its grip on key product Lipitor, which topped Viagra to become, for several years, the world's biggest selling drug. However the market became considerably tougher during 2005 and even Pfizer began to feel the effects of competition and increased scrutiny from regulators. In 2006, it sold its huge non-prescription healthcare division to Johnson & Johnson in order to narrow its focus on higher-margin pharmaceutical products. Yet that deal was subsequently perceived to have been a serious strategic error, removing the benefits of consumer healthcare's steady cash flow. As a result, in 2009, Pfizer boosted its pharma portfolio and re-entered OTC with a $68bn takeover of rival Wyeth. In 2014, its target was British rival AstraZeneca, but that group evaded capture with a vigorous opposition campaign. Instead, Pfizer turned its attention in 2015 to generics developer Hospira and also agreed to acquire Allergan for an astronomical $160bn in cash and debt. However that mammoth deal was eventually abandoned in 2016 as a result of changes in US tax rules. Who will be Pfizer's next target? Many commentators believe it may be Bristol-Myers Squibb.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 24th May 2018: Trade source Fierce Pharma has compiled an interesting table of the top drugs sold in the US over the past 25 years, using cumulative sales figures. It passed its peak several years ago now, but Pfizer's cholesterol drug Lipitor is still the clear leader with total sales to-date of almost $95bn. It could soon be toppled, though, by AbbVie's Humira, a treatment for auto-immune conditions. Sales are already almost $76bn, and Humira is expected to become the first drug ever to top $20bn in sales in a single year before its patent expires in 2023. In third place for now is Nexium, from AstraZeneca, for acid reflux and ulcers. It too is past its peak, but cumulative sales currently stand at over $72bn. GSK's Advair and Amgen's Enbrel rounded out the top five at $69bn and $68bn respectively. (See full feature here).
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Mar 2018: Both of the main suitors for Pfizer's $20bn consumer healthcare division dropped out during the course of last week. Reckitt Benckiser - which had been considered the favourite to buy the business - withdrew mid-week, leaving rival GlaxoSmithKline with a clear path to conclude a deal. However, the British group also dropped its bid on Friday. Both companies indicated the high cost of the business as a factor. RB's CEO Rakesh Kapoor said that his priority at this point is organic growth and that he had been interested in only part of Pfizer's portfolio: "An acquisition for the whole Pfizer consumer health business did not fit our acquisition criteria and an acquisition of part of the business was not possible." GSK's CEO Emma Walmsley also issued a brief statement: "While we will continue to review opportunities that may accelerate our strategy, they must meet our criteria for returns and not compromise our priorities for capital allocation." As if to emphasise her diligence, she instead announced plans to use $13bn (or around £9.2bn) of the cash that might have been spent on Pfizer to buy out the minority stake Novartis has held in GSK Consumer Healthcare division since their two respective portfolios were combined. Full control will allow GSK to make other, probably smaller, consumer healthcare deals in the future without having to first seek Novartis's permission. To help fund the buyout, GSK said it was considering the sale of its malted milk drink Horlicks, one of the last remnants of what was once a sizeable nutrition division. Though only a niche product in the UK these days, Horlicks nonetheless has substantial sales in Asia, especially India. A sale could generate as much as £3.5bn. In the mean time, it's not clear whether other potential buyers remain for Pfizer's OTC division. The US company might consider an IPO or spin-off of the business to shareholders, or might simply hang onto it for the time being.
Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Feb 2018: According to media reports, there are only two bidders left in the $20bn auction of Pfizer's consumer healthcare division: GlaxoSmithKline and Reckitt Benckiser. Most observers expect RB to win the prize, since GSK would need the approval of its healthcare partner Novartis, which might not be forthcoming. Meanwhile, the simultaneous auction of Merck KGaA's OTC division has been thrown into doubt after favoured bidder Nestle walked away over the German group's over-ambitious price expectations, thought to exceed €4bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 16th Nov 2017: Drug giant Pfizer also made changes to its senior management team. Albert Bourla, current head of the innovative pharma division, which develops and launches new prescription drugs, moves up to a newly created role of group COO, making him heir apparent to CEO Ian Read. That move prompted a reshuffle of other roles, with John Young transferring from the established products division to replace Bourla. Young is himself replaced by Angela Hwang.
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th October 2017: Pfizer said it is considering the sale or spin-off of its substantial consumer healthcare division. CEO Ian Read said that while the OTC business has a "strong connection" to Pfizer's main pharmaceuticals operations, "there is potential for its value to be more fully realised outside the company". A decision will be made some time next year. If so, this would be the second time Pfizer has bought, built up and then sold its consumer healthcare subsidiary. In 2000, the acquisition of Warner-Lambert included a large OTC business containing Listerine, Sudafed and other brands. It sold that unit to Johnson & Johnson six years later. However, the disposal was later perceived by investors to have been a strategic error, because of the slow but steady cash flow such businesses generate. Pfizer got back into OTC again with the 2009 purchase of Wyeth, whose products now form the core of the current business. Pfizer isn't the only drug group seeking a buyer for consumer healthcare. So too is German group Merck KGaA - no relation to US-based Merck & Co - which has already put its own OTC division, led by Seven Seas vitamins, up for sale.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart arrived in America from Germany in the 1840s. Pfizer had studied chemistry back home, and in 1849 the two formed chemical firm Charles Pfizer & Company in New York. Erhart's training was in confectionery, and their first product was a new formula for the foul-tasting worm treatment santonin, flavoured with toffee to improve its palatability. Following the success of this initial venture, the business expanded rapidly, beginning the manufacture of tartaric acid and cream of tartar for use in the food and chemical industries in 1862.
By the end of the century, Pfizer's most important product was citric acid, used primarily for medicinal purposes, as well as for foods, soft drinks, cleaning fluids and industrial processes. Traditionally, this was processed from sour citrus fruits, imported at some expense from Italy. When supply of the raw material stopped as a result of World War I, Pfizer faced a serious problem. In 1917, the company recruited government food chemist Dr James Currie, who had discovered that citric acid was also created naturally during the fermentation of cheese. At Pfizer he developed a system for creating the acid from sugar. After several years of testing, the process (known as SUCIAC, or Sugar Under Conversion Into Acid Citric), was perfected. By 1929, Pfizer was able to generate its entire production run of citric acid from cheap molasses, using huge fermentation vats, and at a fraction of the original cost.
This breakthrough was to have far more significant results a decade later. At the same time that Currie was perfecting his SUCIAC process, Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming was discovering that a comparatively ordinary green mould produced a substance capable of killing many of the common bacteria that infect humans. Fleming did not have the resources to isolate the substance, which he named penicillin, and his research was effectively shelved for more than a decade. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 created an immediate and urgent need for anti-infection agents. The British government reopened the project, calling on the US for assistance in mass-producing the drug. In 1941, Pfizer was one of 20 companies which began the race to find a way of creating penicillin in the quantities required for what had now become a global conflict. In 1942 the company discovered that the deep-tank fermentation units used for citric acid production were also ideal for penicillin, and Pfizer turned over most of its production facility to the new wonder-drug. That same year the company went public. All 20 companies began production using the same process, but few others could match Pfizer's supply. The company claims that 90% of the penicillin used at the D-Day landings in 1944 was manufactured by Pfizer, as well as half of the entire supply used for the remaining two years of the war.
Until this point, Pfizer had been primarily a manufacturing facility, mass-producing substances developed by other companies under contract and selling them. After the war, Pfizer chairman John Smith drew up the blueprint for the transformation of the company into a pharmaceutical business in its own right, ordering his successor, John McKeen, to search for drugs which Pfizer would own as well as manufacture. The first product to be developed exclusively by Pfizer scientists was named Terramycin, a powerful antibiotic extracted from soil. In 1950, the company formed a large and aggressive salesforce to market this new drug under the Pfizer name not just in the US but globally. This campaign also effectively marked the beginning of medical advertising in the US. Pfizer hired long-established agency William Douglas McAdams to advertise the product commercially, and they introduced many of the strategies now taken for granted, such as direct mail and sampling units, and above all print ads in medical journals. In 1952, McAdams paid to insert an entire issue of Pfizer's house magazine Spectrum into the Journal of the American Medical Association, an unprecedented move. The same aggressive approach was adopted outside the US, with the result that within seven years, Pfizer's international division had grown sales from virtually nothing to over $60m annually.
In 1952 the company opened an agricultural division, devoted to animal health research. A year later Pfizer acquired Roerig & Company, makers of nutritional supplements, and formed a partnership with Japanese company Taito in 1955 (they took control of the joint venture forty years later). In 1963, consumer skincare and medicine business Desitin joined the portfolio, along with Coty, one of the world's oldest perfume companies, and a number of medical device manufacturers. Expansion of the company's hard-nosed sales force and new manufacturing and research facilities worldwide had pushed sales over $200m by 1966.
The company's different research departments unveiled a series of new products over the coming years. For example, in 1954, Tetracyn was Pfizer's first entirely synthetic antibiotic. However few products in this increasingly global company had the international impact of Terramycin. In 1971, all the group's chemical, pharmaceutical and agricultural research facilities were combined as the Central Research Division to coordinate on the development of "blockbuster" substances. Feldene, launched in 1982, became the world's largest-selling prescription anti-inflammatory medication, and went on to be the first Pfizer product to achieve sales of $1bn. Cardiovascular treatment Norvasc was introduced in 1989.
In the 1990s, Pfizer refocused on its pharmaceutical business, then ranking around #14 worldwide. In 1992 the company sold off Coty - by then North America's leading mass-market fragrance company - to the Benckiser family, as well as heart-valve maker Shiley. The rest of the group's various medical products businesses followed over the course of the decade. In 1995 the group acquired SmithKline Beecham's animal health division, merging it with its own to create the world's leading animal health company. The same year, the group bought the Bain de Soleil skincare brand from Procter & Gamble (but sold it again in 1999).
At the same time, as most drugmakers worldwide began cutting their sales forces and marketing budgets, Pfizer took the opposite approach, beefing up its marketing departments and sales network. As a result, Pfizer's next pharmaceutical launch received the full benefit of the company's uniquely aggressive marketing skills. Introduced in 1998, Viagra achieved an unprecedented level of success, grabbing headlines around the world and breaking records at the time as the world's fastest-selling drug. Equally important was the marketing alliance formed a year earlier with smaller rival Warner-Lambert. The latter had developed a ground-breaking cholesterol lowering drug, marketed under the name Lipitor. Aware of the drug's huge potential, but lacking a global sales force to do it justice, Warner agreed a marketing alliance with Pfizer's renowned sales division. Lipitor was another massive success, the first pharmaceutical product to achieve sales of $1bn in its first year on the market. The following year sales more than doubled to $2.1bn.
In 1999 Warner-Lambert surprised the industry as a whole, but Pfizer in particular, with the announcement that it had agreed to merge with US rival American Home Products (now Wyeth) to create the world's biggest drug company, to be called American Warner. [See Warner-Lambert profile for more]. Concerned about the inevitable damage to the Lipitor partnership, and keen to build its own business, Pfizer launched an unprecedented hostile bid for Warner. Hostile takeovers are very rare indeed in the pharmaceutical world, where it is essential to retain the goodwill of the core asset, the research scientists. Pfizer, however, argued it was the better partner, backing that claim with a handsome premium to Warner shareholders, as well as the promise of substantially increased R&D budgets. Despite Warner's attempts to escape a hostile takeover, Pfizer finally clinched the deal in February 2000, paying $90bn in stock. Pfizer inherited several non-core businesses in the takeover of Warner-Lambert, but was barred from making any disposals for two years following completion of that deal. The group began the process of soliciting bids for three business units in 2002. The biggest of these was gum and mints manufacturer Adams, sold to Cadbury Schweppes at the end of 2002 for $4.2bn. Tetra, the world's leading specialist in fishkeeping and reptile-care products, was also sold at the end of 2002, and shaving products division Schick-Wilkinson Sword was sold to battery manufacturer Energizer for $930m.
In 2003, Pfizer was back on the acquisition trail again in order to consolidate its hold on another blockbuster drug. Celebrex had been discovered by Searle, a division of Pharmacia Corporation. Like Lipitor, it was launched through a marketing partnership with Pfizer, and set a new record in 1999 for the most successful pharmaceutical product launch in the US, overtaking Viagra. In 2003, Pfizer negotiated a $60bn takeover of Pharmacia to seize full control of the drug and its follow-up Bextra. Both products were badly dented however by the controversy over COX-2 inhibitors that surfaced towards the end of 2004.
There were a number of additional deals over the period. The group acquired biotechnology groups Eyetech (in 2002 for $745m) and Esperion Therapeutics (in 2003 for $1.3bn). In 2004 the group paid $125m for Meridica, a British company which had developed a new form of asthma inhaler. Pfizer also sold off several products to comply with regulators' conditions for the Pharmacia merger. Oral contraceptives Estrostep and Loestrin and the hormone replacement therapy, FemHRT were transferred to Irish pharma business Galen for $484m in 2003, and an experimental urinary incontinence drug was sold to Swiss drugmaker Novartis for $225m.
However the combined effects of fierce generic competition, looming patent expirations, a slowing development pipeline and far tighter regulatory curbs began to bite from 2005 onwards. In 2006 the group took the decision to divest its large but comparatively low margin consumer healthcare division, and launched a major restructuring programme. During 2007 alone, Pfizer reduced headcount by more than 11,000 people, and exited six manufacturing sites and two R&D sites. See full profile for current activities
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