You can call them "frenemies." 

Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) are friends when it comes to blockbuster blood thinner Eliquis. But the two big pharma companies are enemies in the oncology and immunology arenas. 

How do these collaborators and competitors compare for investors? Here's how Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) stack up against each other.

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Current products

Pfizer's top-selling products include Prevnar 13, Lyrica, Enbrel, Ibrance, and Eliquis. Three of these drugs are performing well, with growing sales. However, sales have been slipping for pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13 and autoimmune-disease drug Enbrel. Overall, though, Pfizer's innovative health segment, which includes its brand drugs still protected by patents, is growing revenue at a respectable 6% to 7% annually. 

The real challenge for Pfizer's current lineup stems from its essentials health segment. Sales are falling for its legacy drugs that have either lost exclusivity or will soon do so. Pfizer's sterile injectables business, picked up from its 2015 acquisition of Hospira, has been somewhat sluggish also. Sales for its biosimilars are growing nicely, but revenue isn't enough to offset the other problem areas. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb is enjoying exceptionally strong sales growth for cancer drug Opdivo and for Eliquis. Sales for several other products in the drugmaker's lineup are also increasing solidly, including rheumatoid arthritis drug Orencia, chemotherapy Sprycel, and cancer immunotherapy Yervoy. 

However, like Pfizer, BMS faces headwinds with its older products. The company's hepatitis C franchise is especially struggling in the face of newer competition. It's the same story for BMS's hepatitis B and HIV drugs.

Which big pharma looks better when it comes to current products? BMS has the clear advantage. Total revenue is growing by nearly 9%, thanks largely to continued momentum for Opdivo.  


Pfizer's pipeline includes 10 programs awaiting regulatory approval and 32 late-stage programs. The company also has another 17 phase 2 programs. Some of these are targeting additional indications for existing drugs like Bavencio, Ibrance, and Xeljanz. However, several are new drugs, including promising candidates talazoparib for treating breast cancer, and diabetes drug ertugliflozin, which Pfizer is co-developing with Merck

Pfizer ranked third among all big pharma companies last year for investing in research and development. The company invests heavily in internal R&D, but it has also been busy on the acquisitions front, buying Anacor and Medivation in 2016. These acquisitions have added several solid candidates to Pfizer's pipeline.

Bristol-Myers Squibb's pipeline includes a total of 33 compounds in development, although several of those compounds are involved in multiple clinical trials. The company does have quite a few late-stage studies underway, but most of them focus on existing drugs, especially Opdivo and Yervoy. BMS only has one new drug not already on the market for another indication in late-stage development. 

Although BMS's research with its immuno-oncology drugs is promising, Pfizer claims a much larger pipeline. As a result, Pfizer appears to be the winner in this category. 

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Pfizer's dividend currently yields 3.62% -- one of the best yields in big pharma. The company uses roughly 90% of its earnings to fund the dividend program. That's higher than ideal, but Pfizer's strong cash flow should keep the dividends flowing for a long time to come.

Bristol-Myers Squibb has a lower dividend yield of 2.48%. On the other hand, the drugmaker's payout ratio is less than 57%, indicating flexibility to increase its dividend in the future.

Both of these companies have solid dividends, but I'd give Pfizer the nod as the better dividend stock. It doesn't seem likely that BMS will catch up to Pfizer's yield anytime soon. 

Better buy

Which of these two drugmakers is the better pick for investors? It's a tough call. In fact, I'll cheat a little bit and select both of them.

Over a shorter period (the next one to five years), my view is that Bristol-Myers Squibb will probably be the better stock. Opdivo is a great drug and will be the key driver for the company's growth. Pfizer will continue to face challenges from its legacy products that will take time to overcome.

On the other hand, I think Pfizer is likely to be the better stock over the longer term. Don't overlook the power of reinvesting those great dividends that Pfizer pays. I also expect the company's deep pipeline to deliver some key wins down the road.

The nice thing about investing is that it's not always a binary decision. Both Pfizer and BMS appear to be solid stocks for investors. Of course, there are quite a few others that are just as good and perhaps even better.

Keith Speights owns shares of Pfizer. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.