Pfizer's Lackluster Sales May Fuel Speculation for Deals

  • Cancer drug Ibrance in line with estimates, Prevnar misses
  • Drugmaker has yet to make big deal since $14B Medivation deal

Pfizer Inc.’s underwhelming sales for its blockbuster medicines in the first quarter will probably further fuel speculation that the giant drugmaker needs to make a deal to revive growth.

Investors have been watching Pfizer’s next move as the market for its top-selling Prevnar vaccination shots is saturating in the U.S. The franchise’s sales came in shorter than anticipated by analysts last quarter, while the newer breast cancer drug, Ibrance, was just in line with estimates. The shares dropped the most in three months after Pfizer posted its quarterly results.

Pfizer, among the most acquisitive pharmaceutical companies a few years ago, put the focus back on mergers and acquisitions a few months ago after abandoning a megamerger with Allergan Plc earlier in 2016. While Pfizer has since made some deals -- including the $14 billion purchase of cancer drug maker Medivation -- it hasn’t been enough so far to reverse the slowdown in older drugs.

Overall revenue dropped for the second quarter in a row, hurt in part by the stronger dollar and fewer selling days compared with a year earlier, New York-based Pfizer said Tuesday. First-quarter earnings were 69 cents, excluding some items, the company said, higher than the 67-cent average of analysts’ estimates.

The stock was down 2.6 percent to $32.91 at 10:11 a.m. in New York.

Among the most-often cited possible targets for Pfizer is Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., whose shares have fallen since last year’s failure of a pivotal cancer study. Bristol-Myers would bring Pfizer a drug to treat lung cancer with immunotherapy, one of the hottest areas in the field, analysts have said.

Revenue from Ibrance jumped 58 percent to $679 million in the first quarter, Pfizer said. While the drug is doing well and is expected to reach $5.3 billion in sales by 2020, competition looms. A similar drug by Novartis received regulatory approval in March, and a potential competitor from Eli Lilly & Co. delivered promising results.

Late last year, Pfizer introduced Inflectra, a so-called biosimilar, or cheaper copy of a biologic drug, to compete against Johnson & Johnson’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment Remicade. Pfizer’s results suggest Inflectra has yet to make a significant impact on Remicade. While biosimilars have long been approved in Europe, they’re still new in the U.S., so doctors have been slower to prescribe them and they must go through additional regulatory procedures.

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