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A tale of two pills for Pfizer in Q1

Published on 26/04/04 at 04:53pm


The first quarter of 2004 saw Pfizer's biggest seller Lipitor extend its domination of the statin market but Viagra, another of its iconic brands has seen its sales decline for the first time ever.

Overall, the company posted yet another stunning set of results, its earnings rising 27% over the same period last year in tandem with a 47% increase in sales to $12.5 billion, helped by strong product sales, a weak dollar and the acquisition of Pharmacia.

Just over a year on since it bought its Celebrex marketing partner for $53 billion, making itself pharma's undisputed superpower, Pfizer's flagship brand Lipitor once again lifted its sales with a 19% increase to $2.5 billion for the period.

The company continues to support the drug with new large scale trials, including a four year trial which showed a reduction in serious cardiovascular problems, including a 47% reduction in non-fatal heart attacks, and another which showed the drug stopped the process of atherosclerosis. The most significant development for Lipitor in the quarter came with the publication of a study of the drug in combination with a new drug, torcetrapib.

Pfizer acquired the rights to the drug when it bought Esperion Therapeutics for $1.3 billion earlier this year - another strategic purchase which could pay off handsomely for Pfizer.

A small scale study showed torcetrapib significantly raised levels of 'good' high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol alone and in combination with Lipitor. Higher levels of HDL-C are thought to protect the heart, and Esperion has a number of other promising compounds in development which could give Pfizer a whole new generation of cardiovascular drugs. Meanwhile a three-year study of Lipitor in people with diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol proved so successful it was stopped early due to its positive results. The study showed Lipitor produced a 23% reduction in the number of total cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack or stroke in the patients, setting it up for an extended licence to cover the prevention of coronary or cardiovascular events.

AstraZeneca's Crestor, emerging as Lipitor's main rival, has also recently published results from patients with diabetes, but although it is more effective than Lipitor, it does not have the same long-term outcome data. Despite the generally upbeat news, chinks have begun to appear in Pfizer's previously impenetrable armour -although Lipitor revenues continue their upward climb, the drug's share of the US lipid-lowering market fell by just over 2% from a year ago to 43.4%.

This slight fall in market share is nothing compared to the massive 25% drop in sales Viagra saw in the US, for the first quarter 2004, as rival brands, Icos and Lilly's Cialis and Bayer and GSK's Levitra seized market share from the older drug.

Outside the US, Viagra sales rose 8% but the company may see the same erosion in other markets as competitor drugs, (Cialis in particular) win more prescriptions.

Chief executive Hank McKinnell had the unaccustomed role of breaking bad news in a conference call with investors, admitting Viagra's first quarter performance in the US was ot "as we had hoped". He added:  "I think Viagra will improve in the future", indicating that the company would look at further measures to bolster the drug's market share.

Selling to an exceptionally consumer-led market, Pfizer is now employing a favourite tactic from the retail world, offering men a 'buy-six-get-one-free' offer on Viagra in a bid to encourage brand loyalty. So far Pfizer's rivals have stolen sales from Viagra rather than expanding the market - if the competitors are unable to increase the total market they could be forced into increasingly cut-throat and unprofitable competition; "That means we will have to slog it out in the market," said Pfizer president Karen Katen.

In the UK, as elsewhere, competitors are working hard to encourage more men to seek help with their erectile dysfunction (ED) problem. Bayer and GSK have just released new patient research in conjunction with charities entitled The Last Taboo: ED Uncovered. Among its findings were that 92% of men with the condition surveyed had not received any written information about it, either from a doctor or any other source.  

As reported in last month's Pharmafocus, it is Lilly's Cialis which is gaining ground fastest on Viagra in markets around the world, commanding up to 40% of prescriptions in Australia and 17% in the UK. 

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