Pfizer's 3 Points of Failure

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Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) is not having a good March. Last week, its Cinderella story, Alzheimer's drug Dimebon, which it licensed from Medivation (Nasdaq: MDVN  ) , failed its first phase 3 trial for effectiveness. And then yesterday, the clinical-trial (March) madness continued with three more failures.

After failing a previous phase 3 trial, figitumumab was a No. 16 seed coming into the trial. Still, upsets are always possible ... it's anyone's game at this level ... and you can insert your own sports metaphor here.

Pfizer was testing figitumumab in combination with Roche and OSI Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: OSIP  ) Tarceva for lung cancer, but a Data Safety Monitoring Committee recommended stopping the trial after an interim peek at the data showed that figitumumab plus Tarceva wasn't likely to extend survival longer than Tarceva alone.

Pfizer's Sutent, on the other hand, has made it to the Elite Eight. The drug is already approved to treat both kidney and gastrointestinal cancer and has been shown to work on pancreatic cancer as well. Expanding into breast cancer would have added substantial sales to the nearly $1 billion it brought in last year, but it wasn't meant to be. Pfizer announced that it was stopping two trials yesterday: one testing Sutent in combination with sanofi-aventis' (NYSE: SNY  ) Taxotere, and another testing it with Roche's Xeloda.

Sutent had failed a couple of trials for breast cancer, but those were head-to-head trials against current therapies: Xeloda in one trial and Roche's Avastin plus Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY  ) Taxol in another. Pfizer's backup plan -- if you can't beat them, join them -- seemed sound, but like so many other drugs, Sutent doesn't seem to work in breast cancer.

Fortunately, Pfizer has a large pipeline; with the addition of Wyeth, its 34 (now 31) phase 3 programs could fill out half a bracket all on its own. The loss of a few programs won't kill Pfizer, but it sure would be nice to see it sink a few baskets soon.

By comparison, Pfizer's March has nothing on the tech bubble burst.

Pfizer is a recommendation of the Inside Value newsletter. If you're interested in picking through the wreckage for possible turnaround candidates, you should have the Inside Value team on your side. Check it out for free with a 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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