The newest data on Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE) osteoporosis treatment Fablyn, which was published in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine, won't help the drug get approved -- the company still needs to respond to questions from the Food and Drug Administration. But it might give investors a better idea of the value of the drug. Emphasis on might.

The drug reduced the risk of both spinal and non-spinal fractures, but it doesn't appear to work any better than Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY) Evista, which is in the same class of drugs. Evista has been on the market for more than a decade, so doctors will probably be much more comfortable with its safety profile than with a newcomer's.

Pfizer has said that it would like to sell or license Fablyn, which it originally licensed from Ligand Pharmaceuticals. But who's going to buy it? A large sales force would probably be necessary, since osteoporosis is often treated by a primary-care physician and not a specialist. That cuts out most specialty pharmaceutical companies. Even Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN), which is a fairly large company, invoked the help of a big brother, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), to market Prolia for osteoporosis in many foreign markets. That just leaves large pharmaceutical companies, but if you assume that drugmakers don't want to double up on osteoporosis drugs, you can eliminate all these potential suitors.



Eli Lilly


Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), sanofi-aventis


Novartis (NYSE: NVS)


Roche and GlaxoSmithKline


Who knows? Maybe one of those companies will see a niche market for Fablyn that might not cannibalize their current offering. There's also Merck (NYSE: MRK), which recently lost patent protection for Fosamax and might be interested in getting back in the game.

Given the crowded market and the lack of clinical advantages that Fablyn has demonstrated, I wouldn't expect Pfizer to be able to get much for the compound.

Bone up on this trend that may change investing.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Novartis is a Global Gains recommendation. Procter & Gamble is an Income Investor selection. The Fool owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline and Procter & Gamble and has a disclosure policy.