Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is a mind-bogglingly large pharmaceutical company. As such, its quarterly updates tend to focus almost exclusively on high-profile products like the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine Prevnar 13, or clinical candidates such as its immuno-oncology assets.
Investors would be wise, though, to read past the headlines and dig deeper into this big pharma. With this in mind, here are two key updates from the drugmaker that most investors probably missed during the company's first-quarter conference call.
Tanezumab -- the forgotten experimental pain drug
The market for severe pain treatment is ginormous. In the U.S. alone, opioid sales for severe pain already top $11 billion a year, despite the fact that best-selling drugs such as morphine and OxyContin are only partially effective analgesics. The issue is that these drugs tend to require multiple doses before significant pain relief is achieved, and come with a host of serious side effects like respiratory depression and nausea, not to mention addiction.
Pfizer and Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) think their experimental monoclonal antibody that selectively targets nerve-growth factor could become an important step forward, given that it provides quick and long-lasting pain relief, according to the clinical trial data so far. Unfortunately, the drug's development has been stalled since 2012 due to a partial clinical hold placed on all anti-nerve growth-factor agents by the Food and Drug Administration.
After a long back and forth with the agency, Pfizer announced in March of this year that the FDA agreed to lift the partial clinical hold, allowing tanezumab's pivotal late-stage trial to proceed. Although the drug was barely mentioned in Pfizer's first-quarter remarks, Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan fortunately asked about the pharma giant's outlook for tanezumab.
Taking up the question, Pfizer's President of Global Innovative Pharma Geno Germano stated: "We know a lot about this medicine. We've completed quite a number of studies and we're anxious to see it advance through this next phase of development and enter the market."
If all goes according to plan, this forgotten experimental pain medicine should become one of Pfizer's next megablockbuster products.
Biosimilar business is starting to take shape
One of the more interesting aspects of Pfizer's first-quarter update is that its emerging biosimilar business was almost entirely glanced over. Pfizer presumably spent $17 billion to acquire Hospira late last year in order to take on Amgen and Novartis in the multi-billion dollar biosimilar space going forward -- yet there was nary a mention on this topic.
Most conspicuously, Pfizer's potential biosimilar, PF-06439535, an imitation of the megablockbuster cancer drug Avastin that loses all exclusivity in 2019, wasn't brought up until the question and answer section of the conference call. Per a question from an analyst at Merrill Lynch, though, we learned that Pfizer believes that the FDA would approve its Avastin biosimilar for all of the same indications, if the drug meets the pre-specified primary endpoints in its ongoing late-stage trial.
That's key because a biosimilar that can grab even 10% of the total Avastin market should generate sales of around $700 million a year. So depending on how the biosimilar marketplace for Avastin shakes out, Pfizer could easily grab even more substantial market share and have another blockbuster product on its hand.
These are only two examples of some hidden gems in Pfizer's monstrous clinical pipeline that sports 88 ongoing trials. In fact, many promising drugs, such as those for rare diseases, received no attention whatsoever in the call, although their status was noted in the accompanying clinical update. Overall, Pfizer has a lot more to offer investors than headline-grabbing cancer drugs, or its groundbreaking vaccine Prevnar 13. And I think it's worth the time and effort to comb through the drugmaker's diverse pipeline to behold what may be in store moving ahead.