Pfizer's 2013 Sets Up a Bright Future

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has had a good year, without a doubt: America's blue-chip index has gained more than 18% since 2013 kicked off, and 28 of its 30 member stocks have jumped higher year to date. Yet even the Dow's gains can't keep up with those of many of its members. Take Pfizer: (NYSE: PFE  ) This Big Pharma standout ranks around the Dow's median among year-to-date performers, but the stock's still gained more than 24% through the year, outpacing the index and delivering great gains to shareholders. How's Pfizer done it? Let's take a walk back through this health care giant's year.

Beating back the patent cliff
Like many of its peers in the pharmaceuticals space, Pfizer's had its trouble with the patent cliff lately. The company's cholesterol-fighting powerhouse Lipitor, once one of the top-selling drugs in the world, has taken a beating this year due to losing patent protection in 2012. Lipitor's sales through the first nine months of the year fell off by 49% year over year, and while the drug's still a blockbuster and one of Pfizer's top products by sales, the company and its investors have turned to Lipitor's successors as the fuel that will keep Pfizer running.

It's a good thing, then, that Pfizer's current No. 1 seller, neurological and pain-treatment drug Lyrica, continues to soar. Lyrica racked up more than $3.3 billion in revenue through the first nine months of the year for 10% year-over-year growth, an impressive figure for such a high-sales drug. Pfizer's Celebrex, another top blockbuster, also pulled in strong 8% growth through that time period, while sturdy Enbrel continues to deliver as a cash cow.

Another of Pfizer's best-sellers, the Prevnar vaccine family, has seen revenue slip by 6% this year. Still, these drugs are Pfizer's second-best products by revenue among its current portfolio, and Pfizer won expanded usage for the vaccines in Europe back in July. That should help Prevnar pick up some momentum across the Atlantic, although it hasn't helped Pfizer stave off overall sales declines this year.

Looking to the future
While Lyrica and other drugs make up Pfizer's present, it's the future that investors are looking forward to. Pfizer boasts one of the top pipelines in Big Pharma, and while the company hasn't picked up many noteworthy regulatory approvals in the U.S. this year, the pipeline has progressed swimmingly in 2013. As of Nov. 8, Pfizer boasts 20 drugs and projects in phase 3 trials, with another six in registration.

Pfizer's big question going into the year was how drugs approved in the last few years could perform. It's been a mixed bag so far: Pfizer's most promising recently approved drugs, in particular blood thinner Eliquis, which it co-developed with Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY  ) , and immunology therapy Xeljanz, have gotten off to slow starts this year.

Still, Eliquis alone has huge potential. Analysts have pegged Eliquis at generating potentially between $3 billion and $5 billion, and while Pfizer will have to split the bounty with Bristol, it's still a major infusion into the company's future hopes. Xeljanz also looks like a future blockbuster, according to peak sales estimates, and as long as these two budding stars can ramp up momentum, Pfizer will have hit home runs with their approvals.

No shame in a good year
Although Pfizer's finances have taken a hit this year, the company's story is similar to many of its rivals across the pharmaceutical industry. The patent cliff's a tough enemy to face, and Pfizer's ability to overcome falling sales from Lipitor while still managing such great stock gains through 2013 is a testament to this company's resilience. With Eliquis, Xeljanz, and other up-and-coming drugs pairing up with a robust pipeline, Pfizer looks like it's in a great place to stay on top of the health care field for years to come.

Looking ahead to 2014's biggest opportunity
Pfizer's been a success story in 2013, but can it keep up with the market in the new year? The market stormed out to huge gains across 2013, leaving investors on the sidelines burned. However, opportunistic investors can still find huge winners. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has just hand-picked one such opportunity in our new report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." To find out which stock it is and read our in-depth report, simply click here. It's free!


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