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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. 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 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. This 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. Its sales jumped by 66% to $787m in 2020. In 4Q 2020, Pfizer and development partner BioNTech became the first drug companies to secure regulatory approval for a Covid-19 vaccine, later named Comirnaty. The first non-test patients were injected in the UK in early December, and in the US a few days later. Total sales could top $40bn in 2021. For 2019, Pfizer's combined revenues were $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.

Capsule checked 9th August 2021

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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.

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.

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