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Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) has had a rough start to 2009. Investors have been less than enthusiastic about its acquisition of Wyeth (NYSE: WYE ) and concurrent dividend cut. But yesterday, the drug giant finally had some good news to share with investors.
The company ended a clinical trial early because its cancer drug Sutent was able to stop the progression of a rare form of pancreatic cancer -- the same type that Steve Jobs of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) was reported to have -- better than placebo. When it becomes clear that a drug works, independent data monitoring boards stop trials early so that patients getting placebo can be transferred to the drug. That's very good news for patients and for sales of Sutent.
Sutent is currently approved to treat kidney cancer and a digestive-tract cancer. The drug managed sales of $847 million last year, up 46% year over year. But most of that increase came from outside the United States. Sales were up just 7% in the U.S., as the drug has a lot of competition from Onyx Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: ONXX ) Nexavar and Wyeth's Torisel. The additional patients should give sales a boost, albeit a minor one given the relatively small number of patients with the pancreatic cancer.
Beyond that, the results are encouraging because they suggest that Sutent might be useful in treating other cancers -- breast, lung, colon, prostate, and liver. It's not a guarantee for success -- Nexavar didn't work for skin or lung cancer, for instance -- but it certainly should give Pfizer shareholders hope that Sutent might be able to approach the sales levels seen by Genentech's (NYSE: DNA ) Avastin, which topped $2.6 billion last year.
Now Pfizer just needs a few more good results like this, and the ability to integrate a $68 billion purchase better than it has in the past, and it can get back to growing again -- post-Lipitor exclusivity, of course.