Busy times for Pfizer

In just the first two days of this week, Pfizer was making the pharma news a lot, with the closing of a key research center, good news on a pneumococcal vaccine, rumors of a buyer for its animal health business and more

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NEW YORK—As it continues to refocus itself back onpharmaceuticals and unload parts of its operation—such as its animal healthbusinesses—Pfizer has been busy even as it shrinks, with several bits of newsearly this week, from the closing of a key research center to good news on a pneumococcalvaccine to rumors of a buyer for its animal health businesses and more.
One of the most publicly notable pieces of newswas the closing of Pfizer's research center in Sandwich, England, which was theplace Viagra—the company's $2 billion-a-year erectile dysfunction pill—was born.The more than 2,000 people who worked there were fired in 2011 and now the 213-acresite, once Pfizer's biggest European lab, is officially for sale. The sale ofthe center is reportedly part of the strategy to narrow Pfizer's focus to justfive therapeutic areas, according to Pfizer CEO Ian Read, who announced theclosure of the Sandwich facility in February 2011, just two months after takingthe head office position at Pfizer.
Although he said he couldn't afford to be "sentimental"about the closure, "It was a very difficult decision for us," he maintained.The bottom line, though, is that the researchers there worked on allergies andrespiratory diseases, "areas where we were less productive and less likely towin in the marketplace," Read noted. 
Looking toward another aspect of Pfizer's re-focusingeffort, Germany-based pharma giant Boehringer Ingelheim will reportedlyconsider buying Pfizer's animal health business, provided the company sells itin parts, Engelbert Tjeenk Willink, a member of BI's board of directors, toldthe Economic Times recently.
"It depends on for what geography and what exactportfolio they put it on the market," Willink told the publication, though he didn'tsay whether the company had actually bid for acquiring Pfizer's animal healthbusiness. In July 2011, Pfizer had announced a spin-off of its animal healthand nutrition business, and companies like Novartis and Bayer are said to be inthe running to buy the animal health portion of Pfizer.
Although the emphasis is on divestment, at leastone contributor to the Seeking Alpha website, Stock Croc, sees recent takeoversthat expanded the company as key to future market gains.
He noted in a March 9 post at the site that Pfizeris the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, generating almost 90percent of its revenue through the sale of its various prescription medicationsand said "it maintains a wide economic moat through its extensive portfolio ofmedicines," adding that "In my opinion, the recent acquisition of Wyeth in 2009secures Pfizer's leading place in the market and will contribute to its steadyand reliable growth in the near future."
Furthermore, he noted that on Feb. 27 this year, "ina move to gain a foothold in the rapidly growing vitamin supplement market,Pfizer announced its acquisition of Alacer, the maker of Emergen-C, which is aleading brand of vitamin C supplement that sells over 500 million packets eachyear. The Emergen-C line of products is the largest selling product of its kindin the United States and is distributed through supermarkets, drug stores andhealth stores across the country. In my opinion, this acquisition will pay offfor Pfizer, as more health-conscious consumers are beginning to look to thevitamin supplement market in view of preventive health concerns."
"The acquisition of Wyeth has made all thedifference for Pfizer and has allowed it to surpass Novartis and remain aheadof Merck," he also noted. "It also operates at a slightly higher margin of 29percent compared to Novartis and Merck, which both operate at margins of 21percent."
On the more clinical side of Pfizer's currentactivities, March 12 saw an announcement that data from a Phase III study ofPrevnar 13 (Pneumococcal 13-valent Conjugate Vaccine [Diphtheria CRM197Protein]) met all study endpoints, showing immunogenicity and establishing asafety profile in children and adolescents aged 5 through 17 years. These data willsupport planned regulatory submissions seeking to expand the Prevnar 13 labelin the United States, the European Union and various countries around the world,Pfizer says.
"As a global leader in pneumococcal diseaseprevention, we are excited about the potential to further define the clinicalutility of Prevnar 13 with the aim of seeking to broaden prevention efforts toadditional age groups," said Dr. Emilio Emini, chief scientific officer for theVaccine Research division at Pfizer. "While pneumococcal disease most oftenstrikes younger children, older children and adolescents who have certainmedical conditions are also at heightened risk for contracting the disease."
Also on the clinical side, Pfizer reported veryrecently that it is ending a safety study of its pain drug Celebrex—Pfizer'sfifth-best-selling drug at $2.52 billion in sales last year—because ofdifficulty finding patients. The trial was designed to measure the effects ofCelebrex on patients who were taking the drug to treat juvenile idiopathicarthritis. The drug was originally approved in 1998, and Pfizer was required todo this safety study in 2006 after Celebrex was approved as a treatment forjuvenile idiopathic arthritis. According to Pfizer, the U.S. Food and DrugAdministration (FDA) had recently released it from this requirement.
Also in the whirlwind of Pfizer coverage on thenews wires early this week was news that painkiller developers such as Pfizer, Johnson& Johnson and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. were trying to revive a classof arthritis drugs that had been sidelined by safety concerns for nearly twoyears because the FDA had said there was a clear association between thenerve-blocking medications and incidences of joint failure.
However, FDA has also noted that those sideeffects were less common when the drugs were used at lower doses, which leftthe door open for companies to revisit this class of drugs, which includes Pfizer'sexperimental tanezumab and also fulranumab and REGN475, which were beingexplored by J&J and Regeneron.
March 13 saw the announcement that Pfizer and itsrivals had won the backing of an FDA advisory panel to continue development of thisclass of experimental painkillers. The 21 FDA advisers voted unanimously thatthe benefits of enhanced pain relief outweigh the risks of the so-calledanti-nerve growth factor drugs—though this doesn't guarantee that the FDAitself will ultimately agree (although that is usually the case).
"There's significant risk but there are probablypatient populations where there will be significant benefit," Lenore Buckley,professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Virginia CommonwealthUniversity School of Medicine in Richmond and chairwoman of the panel, saidduring the meeting.

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