Don't get used to this kind of performance, though. Pfizer will soon lose patent exclusivity for its blockbuster drug Lyrica. This will weigh heavily on the company's growth throughout the rest of 2019 and into 2020.
But despite the headwinds from Lyrica's loss of exclusivity, Pfizer looks like a great stock to buy and hold for the long term. Here are five reasons why.
1. Strong on offense and defense
Like the best football teams, Pfizer is strong on both offense and defense. By offense, I'm referring to the company's solid sales growth for several of its top products. Anticoagulant Eliquis and breast cancer drug Ibrance, in particular, continue to enjoy tremendous momentum. Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group head Angela Hwang stated in the company's Q1 conference call that Ibrance's opportunity in the adjuvant therapy market could double the number of patients that are eligible to use the drug.
What about defense? Pfizer's current top-selling drug is pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar. Both Merck and Pfizer are developing successors to Prevnar, but Merck is ahead in the pediatric setting. However, Pfizer's patent portfolio for Prevnar appears to be strong and won't expire until 2026. That should allow the company to fend off Merck and give it plenty of time to launch its 20-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine that's currently in phase 3 testing for adults.
2. Bull in a China shop
Pfizer's Upjohn segment could be accurately described as a bull in a China shop. The company made a strategic decision to move the segment's headquarters to China. That appears to have been a very smart move.
China presents a great market for Upjohn's older legacy drugs and generic drugs. In addition, Pfizer's biopharmaceuticals segment is launching Ibrance in China this year. Even though the Chinese government is implementing some drug pricing reforms, Pfizer seems likely to reap the benefits from its focus on China for a long time to come.
3. A flowing pipeline
The 20-valent pneumococcal vaccine mentioned earlier is just one example of Pfizer's loaded pipeline. This pipeline has already delivered five regulatory approvals in just the first four months of 2019. More are likely on the way.
Near the top of the list is tafamidis. Pfizer anticipates FDA approval for the transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM) drug by July. A combination of Bavencio and Inlyta as a first-line treatment for advanced renal cell carcinoma could win FDA approval even sooner, with an expected decision in June 2019. Overall, Pfizer has up to 15 programs with blockbuster potential that could be approved by 2022.
4. Shareholder rewards programs
You've heard of customer rewards programs. Well, Pfizer has a shareholder rewards program of sorts. In fact, the company has a couple of them.
Pfizer bought back a whopping $8.9 billion worth of its shares in the first quarter. These buybacks reduce the number of outstanding shares and increase the value of the remaining outstanding shares. The company also invests in its dividend program, with the dividend currently yielding an attractive 3.39%. Pfizer's continued focus on repurchasing its stock and paying solid dividends should help the company deliver nice long-term total returns.
5. Smart business development strategy
In the past, Pfizer has been known for making huge acquisitions. Investors questioned the wisdom of some of those deals. However, the company now appears to have a smart business development strategy.
Pfizer's chief business officer, John Young, said in the Q1 conference call that investors can expect Pfizer to be very active on the business development front. However, he indicated that Pfizer will focus on early to mid-stage opportunities that cost a few billion dollars or less instead of massive deals.
With its strong pipeline, Pfizer shouldn't need large acquisitions to fuel growth. While smaller deals have more risk associated with clinical trials, they present better bargains. More importantly, the strategy of acquiring early and mid-stage assets shouldn't cause Pfizer to lose its focus.
A bright next decade
Sure, Pfizer is about to hit a rough patch with Lyrica losing exclusivity. The company could have a few pipeline setbacks along the way as well. But overall, Pfizer appears to be in great shape in the coming decade.
After 2020, the negative year-over-year comparisons for Lyrica will fade away. Pfizer expects to make significant improvement on the supply shortages that have plagued its sterile injectables business by the end of 2019. It has multiple late-stage pipeline programs that are poised to be big winners.
New CEO Albert Bourla stated in the Q1 conference call that Pfizer has "a clear path to sustainable growth." He's right.