Clock's ticking for Pfizer

A prescription bottle label for Pfizer's Lipitor

KAI RYSSDAL: The drug in question's called Torcetrapib. But you can bet Pfizer was thinking Vioxx when it learned of problems with its latest heart drug. Over the weekend researchers reported unexpected deaths and heart complications in late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer dropped the drug right away and put a big dent in its bottom line. Helen Palmer reports from the Marketplace Health desk at WGBH what should have been a blockbuster has turned into a billion-dollar bust.


HELEN PALMER: Pfizer researchers don't yet know if all drugs like Torcetrapib that boost good cholesterol have heart dangers or if it's just this one. But Donny Wong says the details are less important than the failure. Wong's a pharmaceutical analyst with Decision Resources.
DONNY WONG: Losing Torcetrapib is a tremendous blow for Pfizer. This drug would have had really high multibillion-dollar potential.

That's if it had actually worked. Wong says Torcetrapib plus Lipitor, the Pfizer best-seller that cuts bad cholesterol, could have been an unbeatable one-two punch and guaranteed the company's revenues for the next decade. Andrew Casper, an analyst with pharmaceutical newsletter the Pink Sheet, says things look different now.

ANDREW CASPER: They have really a five-year clock ticking where they have to come up with some way to replace Lipitor sales.

Lipitor earns $13 billion a year but will lose patent protection in five years. Casper says Pfizer has some useful drugs in development for cancer and obesity. But they'll be respectable sellers at best, not the barnstormer Torcetrapib might have been.

Pfizer's stock value slumped about $20 billion when the markets opened today. Analysts expect the company to speed up cost-control measures, like the sales force cuts announced last week.

BARBARA RYAN: And in the very short run I think that they are likely to increase the dividend fairly substantialy — we're suggesting on the order of 20 percent within the next week.

Barbara Ryan of Deutsche Bank thinks that expectation of a higher dividend helped the stock recover some today, and should help it stabilize about $26 a share.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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