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Pfizer working on anti-smoking drug
Pfizer, big player in heart-disease drugs, gets ready to unveil its secrets.
November 9, 2005: 2:37 PM EST
By Aaron Smith, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Pfizer, one of the top players in the $60 billion market for heart-disease drugs, said that next week it will unveil data on an experimental smoking cessation drug that analysts say has blockbuster potential.

The late-stage data for Varenicline will be announced at the American Heart Association's conference in Dallas on Tuesday, said Pfizer (up $0.24 to $22.15, Research), the world's biggest drug maker.

Varenicline is being developed as an anti-nicotine drug that would block satisfaction from smoking, according to Pfizer, which would not reveal more details.

Anthony Butler, analyst for Lehman Brothers, said he considers the drug a potential blockbuster. The analyst said that, if approved, Varenicline would expand the smoking cessation market, currently dominated by GlaxoSmithKline's (up $0.06 to $53.15, Research) drug Zyban.

But Butler remained skeptical that Varenicline would actually cure smokers of their addiction because the drug does not address the psychological component of smoking addiction.

"Everybody wants to take a pill and not be able to pick up a cigarette," said Butler. "But it may not be so simple -- there's more to smoking cessation than eliminating the physical craving."

Other developments

In addition, Pfizer said it will show results from studies on two of its existing blockbusters: Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug with $10.8 billion in 2004 sales, and Norvasc, a $4.5 billion blood-pressure treatment.

Pfizer would not reveal details, but analysts expect the data to show that Lipitor has a different chemical function than Zocor, a $5.2 billion cholesterol-reducing drug from Merck (up $0.19 to $29.56, Research). This data would be important to Pfizer, as it might help prevent Lipitor patients from abandoning the drug in favor of a cheaper, generic version of Zocor, which loses patent protection in 2006.

"You just can't substitute generic Zocor for Lipitor," said Barbara Ryan, analyst for Deutsche Bank North America, in anticipation of the results of Pfizer's study.

Pfizer has also been experimenting with a combination of Lipitor and torcetrapib, an experimental drug that would increase high density lipoprotein, also known as "good" cholesterol.

Michael Krensavage, analyst for Raymond James & Associations, has estimated that, under the best-case scenario, annual sales of the two drugs together could reach $25 billion until Lipitor loses patent protection, which could arrive as early as 2010. It is unclear whether Pfizer will unveil new information about this combination.

As for Norvasc, Ryan said Pfizer is expected to reveal long-term clinical data, but she was not aware of the details.

"I think the meeting will reflect their continued investment in those products," said Ryan, referring to Pfizer's work with Lipitor and Norvasc. "They're doing all the things they need to do. To what degree those efforts will be successful, that's the question."

To read about Pfizer's third quarter earnings, click hear.  Top of page

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