Lipitor patent victory causes Pfizer stock jump, but analysts say ruling won’t aid other challenges
Associated PressNEW YORK – A patent victory on its biggest selling drug Lipitor boosted Pfizer Inc.’s shares nearly 8 percent Monday as a major uncertainty was eliminated, even though other significant challenges remain.Most analysts had expected Pfizer would defeat the challenge to its cholesterol lowering drug from Indian pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. Still, some investors remained wary of the stock, opting not to risk a negative surprise, analysts said.The ruling last Friday means it is unlikely Lipitor will see generic competition before 2010 when one of the two patents under challenge expires.Pfizer shares rose $1.74, or 7.7 percent, to close at $24.32 on the New York Stock Exchange, near the midpoint of its 52-week trading range. The gain was the second time in a week Pfizer shares have jumped notably.Last Monday, Pfizer hiked its cash dividend for the first quarter by 26 percent, driving the stock nearly 2 percent higher. If the company retains the dividend for the year, the stock will have a yield of about 4.5 percent.Nonetheless, some analysts were mystified by Monday’s stock’s jump because once the patent celebration dissipates Pfizer still faces numerous hurdles including patent expirations, stagnating sales, competition for key products and a pipeline some fear may not be strong enough to propel growth.”It’s not like they (Pfizer) got a huge windfall of revenues we didn’t expect, said Jason Napodano, an analyst at Zacks Investment Research. He predicts Pfizer’s revenue will decline this year and jump only 1 percent in each of the next two years.”Why is that exciting?” Napodano said.Pfizer acknowledged some analysts’ concerns and said it would outline strategies to revitalize sales of key product as well as its pipeline potential at a meeting in February.Despite Lipitor’s recent good news, its outlook remains somewhat cloudy. Last year, sales of the world’s top selling drug rose 18 percent to $10.9 billion. However, for the third quarter, Lipitor sales rose only 6 percent overall and a mere 1 percent in the U.S. market, the world’s largest. The slowdown in growth was one reason Pfizer opted to cut profit estimates for this year and withdraw earnings guidance for 2006 and 2007.Analysts said Vytorin, a drug made by Schering-Plough Corp. and Merck & Co, is grabbing market share from Lipitor. Meanwhile, Merck’s Zocor will lost patent protection next year and health plans and pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts have said they plan financial incentives to make the generic version of the drug more attractive.Lipitor isn’t the only Pfizer product with an uncertain future. Sales of pain reliever Celebrex plunged 45 percent for the nine months to $1.3 billion. Celebrex belongs to the same class of drugs as the now withdrawn Vioxx and has also been linked to heart problems. Meanwhile, earlier this year, Pfizer withdraw Bextra, another drug in the class, because of safety concernsSales of erectile dysfunction drug Viagra dropped 4 percent to $386 million in the third quarter as two competitors pressured revenues and failed to expand the market as predicted.And has sales of key drugs stagnate, Pfizer is losing patent protection on several important products including antidepressant Zoloft, antibiotic Zithromax and blood pressure medicine Norvasc. Patent expirations in the next few years will cost the company 22 percent of 2004 revenues, according to Catherine Arnold, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.Earlier this year, Pfizer announced a plan to save $4 billion by 2008 through cost-cutting, but analysts say the company still needs to increase revenues and there is concern the current pipeline may not be strong enough fuel meaningful growth at a company with $52 billion in sales.But Bert Hazlett, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey is upbeat about the company’s long-term prospects. He noted that Lyrica, a pain medication launched earlier this year is off to a strong start. Next year, he expect Pfizer to introduce Sutent, a cancer drug. Exubera, which is inhaled insulin, and Indiplon, a sleeping aid, may also hit the market.Still Hazlett concedes he doesn’t see noteworthy earnings growth until 2008, even though the dividend may prompt investors to buy the stock. “You are being paid to wait for growth,” he said.