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      McKinnell: 2 new Pfizer drugs are 'breakthroughs'

      Posted AtTheday.com

      Pfizer Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hank McKinnell told an industry forum Wednesday that two of his company's latest drug candidates could offer new hope for cancer patients and those suffering from diabetes.

      McKinnell, speaking to a Morgan Stanley conference of pharmaceutical industry CEOs, said he is bullish about the prospects for Pfizer's Sutent cancer-fighting drug as well as Exubera, the world's first inhaled insulin drug.

      Both drugs are currently under final review by federal regulators. They cannot me marketed until approval is received from the Food and Drug Administration.

      "Both are major medical breakthroughs," McKinnell told conference attendees in New York City. "Clearly, we're confident of approval very shortly."

      McKinnell said Sutent had initially been a "real sleeper" in the pharmaceutical company's pipeline. But the drug, along with Exubera, caught the attention of industry analysts who have closely followed the fortunes of both, believing they have the potential to become blockbusters for Pfizer.

      Analysts have said that Sutent, the cancer drug, could prove to be a novel way to treat gastrointestinal and kidney-related cancers, and Exubera could become an easily administered treatment for millions who suffer from diabetes.

      Market analysts in the past have criticized Pfizer for being overly exuberant in its predictions of company success. Last year Pfizer had forecast profits on an earnings-per-share basis for both 2006 and 2007, but pulled those forecasts in October when issuing its third-quarter financial report, which irked some industry analysts.

      But Pfizer shares responded strongly Wednesday, which was a positive day for the overall market. Company shares closed trading up more than 3 percent from the previous day's activity. Pfizer ended the day's session at $24.55 a share on heavier-than-usual volume of more than 43 million.

      Sutent would be taken orally and is considered a "multi-targeting" cancer drug that can stop the blood supply to tumor cells as well as directly attack those cells. It is considered the first in a class of new drugs that can selectively target multiple protein receptors and thus starve tumors of blood and nutrients needed for their growth as well as kill the cancer cells that make up the tumor.

      Exubera would be the first inhaled insulin drug as opposed to current diabetes drugs that are injected or taken orally. The drug would be taken in a dry-powder form of insulin that would be inhaled directly into the lungs through a specially designed inhaler.

      Pfizer and the Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis are developing the new drug with the California-based Nektar Therapeutics. Sanofi officials have said they would be interested in talks with Pfizer to buy out their share of the venture, although McKinnell didn't offer many details about such talks.

      The New York-based Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, has a significant presence in southeastern Connecticut, where it employs about 6,000 in research, development and manufacturing at its Groton and New London campuses.

      McKinnell's comments about Sutent and Exubera were part of a broad-ranging discussion with industry analysts and investors that included his positive assessment of the nation's new Medicare prescription drug program.

      In addition, McKinnell was upbeat about his company's recent legal victory in a closely watched patent infringement case with an India-based generic pharmaceutical company. He told the Morgan Stanley conference that the positive ruling in a Lipitor patent-infringement case against Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. was a victory for his company's intellectual property rights.

      "It was really satisfying for me to see that the patent law worked as it is intended," McKinnell said, adding that the U.S. District Court judge deciding the case agreed on all 11 legal issues raised by Pfizer against Ranbaxy. "It's nice to be back on the offensive. Clearly, we felt like we've been on the defensive for the past 12 to 18 months."

      Last month, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., ruled in favor of Pfizer, saying the key patent in its blockbuster Lipitor cholesterol-lowering drug would be infringed by Ranbaxy's plans to market its own similar version.

      Lipitor is the world's most-prescribed medication. Last year, the drug produced sales of almost $11 billion, nearly a quarter of Pfizer's global revenues of $52.5 billion. Pfizer officials have said that more than 18 million Americans have used the cholesterol-lowering medication that was first introduced in 1997.

      Pfizer mounted a vigorous legal offensive against Ranbaxy to protect its patents and Pfizer officials said the favorable decision was a victory, as well, for the drug industry and drug innovation. This year, Pfizer will spend about $7.6 billion " an industry record " on research and development, with a large portion devoted to its Groton research operations. Any loss of patent protection before a patent expires could cost billions for companies such as Pfizer, discourage research and result in the loss of thousands of jobs, he warned.

      McKinnell told the pharmaceutical conference that the nation's new Medicare prescription drug program would likely spur sales for his company as well as other pharmaceuticals and predicted the new program could produce cost savings for the federal government.

      "If you don't like the high cost of health (coverage), try the high cost of sickness," he said in reference to the cost of pharmaceuticals versus the cost of hospitalization and surgery.

      "The Medicare prescription drug payment plan is a profound step in the right direction," McKinnell said. "Our product portfolio is uniquely prepared for this marketplace."

      January 05, 2006


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