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What You Need to Know About Big Pharma

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Chris Hill: What about drugs? I think most people, when they think in terms of health care, they naturally gravitate toward pharmaceuticals.

David Williamson: I think the big pharma industry is dealing with the patent cliff. This isn't a surprise for anyone; we've seen it coming for years. They tell you when their drugs are going off patent in their filings.

Chris: Now, aren't we seeing the generics make up, overwhelmingly, the most popular drugs in terms of sales, in terms of revenue -- that sort of thing?

David: Yes, the most popular drugs are going generic. The generic business, though... the stocks haven't performed as well as you might think. It's a brutal business. It's about scale and low margins, and trying to undercut your competitors on price.

When Pfizer's Lipitor went off patent, you saw it was making almost $10 billion a year, and it's just precipitously fallen -- which is good for patients and good for health care costs, which is obviously a huge factor for this country -- but it's not a great business to actually be in.

To combat this, you've actually seen big pharma take a couple different approaches, because they're all getting hammered to different degrees.

Pfizer, after they lost Lipitor, they decided to recapitalize as more of pharmaceutical pure play. They sold off their nutrition business to Nestle. They are spinning out their animal health business, similar to what Bristol-Myers Squibb did with Mead Johnson Nutrition, and that will be coming in early 2013.

Abbott Labs is cleaving itself in two. They have a huge patent expiration issue with Humira. It's responsible for about half the company's revenue, so this is a way for Abbott Labs, a medical device company, to monetize that, separate the companies, and then AbbVie -- which will be the pharmaceutical business -- will live and die off its pipeline, really, which is largely focused to hepatitis C.

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