After experiencing a challenging fourth quarter, and releasing results that showed a 59% fall in net income for the quarter, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is attempting to shift the focus onto the future.
Indeed, the company is in the process of restructuring, and has made significant strides in making the business more efficient. It has cut costs, particularly in research and development, where the amount spent fell from $9.5 billion in 2010 to $6.6 billion in 2013. Now, though, the focus switches away from efficiencies and toward the approval (and launch) of new products, as Pfizer seeks to overcome the loss of revenue due to generic competition, which has been a major reason behind the disappointing top and bottom line figures of late.
Of course, such competition is not expected to let up anytime soon, with Pfizer anticipating a further fall in sales of $3 billion as a result of increased generic competition. Therefore, new product launches are set to become ever more vital to the company's future performance and, as such, an even more significant focus for investors.
Two drugs making headlines
Two drugs look set to dominate the headlines for Pfizer in 2014; the first is a pneumonia vaccine, and the second is a breast cancer drug. The Prevnar vaccine is already approved for treating pneumonia in children and some adults, but Pfizer is aiming to increase its approval so it includes adults over the age of 65. Doing so could net the company an extra $1 billion in revenue to offset the $3 billion additional loss that is expected in 2014 from increased generic competition.
The second drug could be a bigger deal for Pfizer, with the results of a Phase 2 trial recently being positive and meeting its goals. That drug is palbociclib, a breast cancer drug that could boost revenue by up to $3 billion per year. Of course, it remains unknown as to whether it will be approved, and Pfizer is now enrolling patients in a late-stage test of the drug. It is further evidence, however, that Pfizer is pushing hard to combat the increased threat from lower cost, copycat drugs.
Indeed, Pfizer is not the only health care major that's starting to look as though it could, in time, overcome the impact of a patent cliff. Sector peer Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) reported revenue up 6% in the fourth quarter of 2013 despite generic competition causing sales to plummet for ex-blockbusters such as Plavix (a blood thinner), Avapro (a blood pressure drug), and Eliquis (a partnership between Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer).
Bristol-Myers Squibb and (former) partner in the diabetes alliance, AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), seem to be countering the threat from generic drugs in slightly different ways. Bristol-Myers Squibb is refocusing away from being a manufacturer of drugs for the masses to being a specialty, niche player, while AstraZeneca is pursuing an acquisition spree to overcome the severe patent cliff that it's experiencing.
As ever, the market seems to be more concerned with the future than the past, and investors in Pfizer should take heart from the way shares have responded following the challenging set of fourth quarter results. Shares are up 6.5% since their low toward the end of January and, it seems, the market is looking ahead to developments throughout 2014 in what remains a relatively strong drug pipeline. As such, Pfizer, as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca, could be a stock to watch throughout this year.