Pfizer CEO: No "mega-deals" on the horizon

Says a major acquisition would be too disruptive, as the drugmaker tries to cut costs and find a pipeline replacement for Lipitor.

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By Aaron Smith, staff writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Pfizer Inc.'s chief executive Jeffrey Kindler on Wednesday dismissed the idea that the drugmaker will go after any big acquisitions, because they're "disruptive" he said.

Analysts who watch Pfizer closely have said a major acquisition would be the most effective way for the company to grow as its pipeline for new drugs dwindles. But Kindler, speaking at an analyst meeting in New York, said he doesn't see any "mega-deals" on the horizon.

Kindler, who become CEO in 2006, held up his company's 1999 acquisition of Warner-Lambert as an example, calling it "extremely distracting" and "extremely disruptive" to productivity.

Pfizer faces the impending patent loss of Lipitor, a cholesterol-controlling statin and the world's top-selling drug, in 2010. The drugmaker has been toiling to find other ways to replace Lipitor's $12 billion-plus annual sales, which will dry up when faced with low-cost generic competition.

The company has been making small acquisitions to bulk up its pipeline. It recently agreed to buy two relatively small biotechs - Serenex and Encysive - gaining potential treatments of cancer and other diseases. But their drugs are in early-stage experiments and are years away from entering the market.

Kindler also mentioned investing in biogenerics, or generic versions of biotech drugs, as an "opportunity," though he didn't go into detail.

Pfizer has launched several drugs over the last couple years that are considered potential billion-dollar blockbusters. They include the HIV treatment Maraviroc, which entered the market in 2007, as well as the 2006 launches of cancer drug Sutent and anti-smoking treatment Chantix. Sales for Sutent, used for the treatment of cancer of the kidneys or digestive tract, totaled $580 million in 2007 while sales for Chantix were $880 million.

Part of Pfizer's pipeline includes additional uses for painkillers Lyrica and Celebrex. Lyrica entered the market in 2005, and sales totaled $1.8 billion last year. Sales for Celebrex, which entered the market in 1999, were $2.3 billion last year.

Pfizer said it is bringing new experimental drugs into phase 3, the final phase of testing before submission to the Food and Drug Administration. The company will bring eight to 12 potential new drugs or new uses for old drugs into late-stage testing by 2009. This includes potential treatments for lung and breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn's disease, asthma and diabetes. But investors and analysts have their doubts as to whether Pfizer's existing pipeline will make up for a future without Lipitor.

Kindler acknowledged that "the loss of Lipitor exclusivity is getting closer." But he added that the company is "realistic about the challenges" it faces. To alleviate the burden, the company is in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar cost-cutting plan where outsourcing has played a key role.

The New York-based pharmaceutical giant said it has already increased outsourcing of its drug manufacturing to 17%, from less than 10% just three years ago.

Since 2004, Pfizer has closed or sold 21 factories, bringing the number of factories it operates to 57, while reducing its staff by 21% to 86,600, the company said. It has also shut down one-third of its research sites to a current total of 10.

"We will do whatever is necessary to size the company accordingly," said Kindler. "Our DNA has changed. We're moving faster. We're making smarter decisions with your capital."

Pfizer also plans to expand its marketing presence in the overseas market, particularly in China, where the company intends to spread its operations into 650 cities, nearly six times the current number.

Pfizer had planned to protect Lipitor sales by combining it with the experimental drug torcetrapib, which would have created a whole new brand-name product to compete with generics. But Pfizer dropped torcetrapib in December of 2006 because too many patients died in the study. Since that time, Pfizer has had difficulty coming up with a replacement for Lipitor.

"In my own judgment, I don't think they're going to be able to replace Lipitor in 2011," said Les Funtleyder, a drug analyst for Miller Tabak, who attended the meeting. "There's nothing I've seen today that would change that."

Pfizer's (PFE, Fortune 500) stock edged down 1% in afternoon trading.

"I don't think that anybody came to the meeting with high expectations, so the bar's probably low for them," said Funtleyder, adding that the company's stock performance isn't bad at all, compared to the market as a whole.

As for Kindler's plan to expand into biogenerics, Steve Brozak, biotech analyst for WBB Securities, said it would be "disruptive" to the biotech industry, which he praised as the richest source of innovation.

Brozak also said that Pfizer would have to compete with low-cost biotech innovation that is being conducted in China and India. "Does [Pfizer] really want to go into a situation of who is the lowest bidder?" he asked.

Pfizer bumps up sales forecast

Pfizer reaffirmed its 2008 guidance, with a sales range of $47 billion to $49 billion and full-year earnings from $1.78 to $1.93 per share, or $2.35 to $ 2.45 per share without charges.

Pfizer is the largest company in the world to derive all or most of its sales from pharmaceuticals. The drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, Fortune 500) is larger, but its sales also come from consumer goods and medical devices. Merck (MRK, Fortune 500) is the No. 3 drugmaker and Abbott (ABT, Fortune 500) is No. 4. To top of page

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