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Pfizer alters focus in rush for new drugs

Bloomberg News / October 1, 2008
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NEW YORK - Pfizer Inc. will abandon early stage research on heart drugs as part of a strategy to sharpen its focus on ailments such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes where the chances of a bigger profit are greatest.

The New York company, the world's largest drug maker, is in a rush to find new medicines for when the cholesterol pill Lipitor loses patent protection in 2011. Lipitor had $12.7 billion in sales last year, one-quarter of Pfizer's revenue.

As part of its shift, the company will sell or share rights to at least 11 medicines in early testing for diseases the company no longer believes profitable enough, said Martin Mackay, the head of research and development. That includes treatments for heart failure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Besides Alzheimer's, cancer, and diabetes, the company will pursue remedies for inflammatory diseases, pain, and schizophrenia.

"These are the disease areas with a higher medical need where the science is really breaking," Mackay said in a telephone interview yesterday. "From an opportunistic point of view, we see greater opportunity to fight cancer and Alzheimer's and diabetes."

Pfizer's research budget of about $7.2 billion is unlikely to change next year, he said. The intensified focus won't affect drugs in the last of three stages of testing needed for US approval.

Chief executive Jeffrey Kindler said in a March 5 interview that Pfizer would focus on medicines for cancer, pain, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.

Pfizer rose 79 cents to $18.44 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have dropped 19 percent this year.

By ending heart disease research, Pfizer abandons an area of medicine that propelled its rise. Pfizer acquired Lipitor from Warner Lambert Co. in 2000, when the drug had less than $1 billion in annual sales, and transformed it into the best-selling pill in history. Lipitor sales have slumped since 2006, when generic copies of a similar drug, Merck & Co.'s Zocor, were introduced.

Products for cancer and pain are typically more profitable because drug makers can charge a higher price, and there's less competition.

Pfizer said yesterday the number of projects in final human tests has increased 50 percent since March, faster than it projected, to 25. The only new compound added was the drug CP-751871, which is being tested against lung cancer. The other added projects are for new uses of drugs already in late-stage testing or on the market.

The restructuring won't result in laboratories closing and will shift many research employees to other areas, the company said. Mackay said he didn't know how many jobs would be cut.

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