Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Pfizer Blows Statin Smoke

By Brian Orelli, PhD - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 8:05PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

It presents some mildly persuasive numbers to try to win back customers for Lipitor.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Over the past couple of years, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) has been getting a small preview of what it's going to feel like when Lipitor, which fights high cholesterol, goes off patent in November 2011. Sales in the U.S. have been sinking since Merck's (NYSE:MRK) Zocor, a similar statin, lost patent protection in the middle of 2006 and generics flooded the market.

 

2006

2007

2008 through September

Lipitor U.S. sales (millions)

$7,849

$7,195

$4,717

Year-over-year increase (decrease)

6%

(8%)

(12%)*

Source: Company earnings releases.
* Compared with the same period of 2007.

To try to get some of those sales to cheaper generics back, the company ran a study comparing Lipitor with generic versions of Zocor.

But this wasn't a controlled head-to-head clinical trial -- no, that would cost way too much. Instead, the company used data collected by WellPoint's (NYSE:WLP) health outcomes research subsidiary to observe whether patients who took the drugs had differences in their chances of having a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, a stroke, or needing a bypass. 

Lo and behold, the group that took Lipitor had a 13% reduction in the relative risk of a cardiac event.

The only problem -- and it's a biggie -- is that these observational studies aren't very controlled. The scientists compiling the data try to factor the differences in, but it's somewhat out of their control. For instance, the patients taking Lipitor were on the drug for nine months on average, compared with just seven months for the patients taking generic Zocor. Pfizer even warns us that the study isn't testing a hypothesis, but rather generating one. How could anyone take the conclusions seriously?

And yet, I'm not sure that Pfizer wasted investors' money. The study probably wasn't all that expensive to compile, and enough doctors won't bother to read the fine print, so it might help gain a few sales that would have gone to generic Merck or perhaps even AstraZeneca's (NYSE:AZN) Crestor or Merck and Schering-Plough's (NYSE:SGP) Vytorin.

Investors should think of this study as an elaborate advertisement. It won't create a windfall, but it might slow the slide toward the cliff a little.

More Foolishness:

WellPoint and Pfizer are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. If you're interested in 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. Pfizer is also a Motley Fool Income Investor pick, and the Fool owns shares of it. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
PFE
$49.42 (-0.71%) $0.35
Merck & Co., Inc. Stock Quote
Merck & Co., Inc.
MRK
$88.92 (-0.67%) $0.60
AstraZeneca PLC Stock Quote
AstraZeneca PLC
AZN
$66.02 (0.19%) $0.12
Anthem, Inc. Stock Quote
Anthem, Inc.
ANTM
$484.05 (0.01%) $0.07

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
373%
 
S&P 500 Returns
122%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/10/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.