Pfizer returns to consumer care with Wyeth buy

NEW YORK What’s really intriguing behind the return of a consumer division to Pfizer is the fact that two of its flagship pharmaceuticals -- Lipitor and Viagra -- are approaching patent expiration, and both have been suggested as possible Rx-to-OTC switch candidates by Kline & Co.


Why Lipitor might hit the switch sweet-spot: Of all the statins, Lipitor certainly looms largest, and a lot of that has to do with the greater perceived efficacy achieved through Pfizer’s statin (second only to Crestor, according to the Johns Hopkins Medical Letter). Pfizer also will benefit from the experiences of four prior statin switch applications, all of which failed on some level with failed actual use studies. In addition, while there is no class of behind-the-counter drugs, there certainly is precedent for OTC marketing agreements that place a drug behind the pharmacy counter -- the emergency contraceptive Plan B, for example. That opens the door to a marketing agreement that would facilitate a pharmacy consultation as a prevention against possible consumer misuse. Though, to be clear, Pfizer has never indicated such a possibility in switching Lipitor.


Why Viagra might hit the switch sweet-spot: While certainly a long-shot in a society where the switch of an emergency contraceptive became a political hot potato, and advertisements around the use of condoms as pleasure enhancement, as opposed to their STD-prevention qualities, are not likely to ever see the light of network prime time, Viagra was sold on a test-market basis in the United Kingdom as a behind-the-counter offering, which requires a pharmacist consultation. If Pfizer can figure out how to open the door around a defacto BTC class of drugs with Lipitor, Viagra isn’t such a stretch after that.

Beyond possible Rx-to-OTC switch scenarios, the other impact to this deal is in marketing synergy. In 2007, Pfizer and Wyeth together spent more than $2.3 billion on marketing, according to Advertising Age. While the new ad budget likely will be less than that, they’ll still be able to generate more traction with the media they do buy, given the greater buying power of the combined companies.

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