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Pfizer Falls After Four Deaths in Arthritis Drug Study

Pfizer Inc. (PFE) shares fell the most since August after a study summary published online showed four deaths among patients taking the company’s experimental rheumatoid arthritis pill.

Four people died and four people developed infections in the group receiving the drug, tofacitinib, while there were no serious adverse events in the group given a placebo, according to the abstract of the study being presented at the European League Against Rheumatism meeting in London. Victoria Davis, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, declined to immediately comment. It wasn’t clear whether the deaths were related to taking the drug.

“The abstract notes that one of the deaths was due to acute heart failure at the 10mg dose,” Larry Biegelsen, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities LLC in New York, wrote in a research note today. “This would make the fourth known case of heart failure with 10mg of tofacitinib.”

Pfizer shares fell 60 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $19.79 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. It was the biggest decline since August 11. Abbott Laboratories, whose Humira injectable drug would face competition from Pfizer’s pill, rose $1, or 2 percent, to $51.80.

“It’s a big overreaction,” said David Maris, an analyst with CLSA in New York, in a telephone interview today. Investors “saw four deaths and flipped out, and as they start to digest this a little more they’ll realize it doesn’t appear to be as bad as people thought.”

Biotech Rivals

Pfizer is competing with biotechnology companies to develop the first pill in a decade for rheumatoid arthritis, which destroys joints in 1.3 million Americans. By 2015, Pfizer’s drug was expected to reach $1.18 billion in annual sales, the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

“There are no serious events in the control arm, and then you have a bunch of adverse events; people are going to question the safety of the drug,” said Les Funtleyder, a New York-based fund manager at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York, in a telephone interview. “Really we need to get more data. It may not be statistically significant. But that may not even matter because people are so sensitive about safety concerns these days.”

The study followed 792 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who failed to improve after taking other treatments. The deaths were attributed to acute heart failure and respiratory failure during treatment and a traumatic brain injury following discontinuation of treatment.

The drug is the most-advanced pill in a family of experimental treatments targeting a protein called JAK that leads to joint destruction.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Randall in New York at trandall6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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