Pfizer has big growth projections post-Upjohn. But can it actually get there?

Albert Bourla incoming Pfizer CEO
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company is on track to turn in 6% annual revenue growth over the next five years. (Pfizer)

Pfizer is reshaping itself to focus on its key biopharmaceuticals unit—including through a spin-off of generics division Upjohn—and that effort will allow it to turn in solid growth for years, execs said Tuesday. 

After the Upjohn spinoff and its consumer health exit, Pfizer’s biopharma group is set to turn in 6% annual growth over the next five years, CEO Albert Bourla said after the company reported third-quarter earnings. That performance would make the drugmaker the second-fastest-growing Big Pharma over that span, he added.

Analysts on the call, though, had their doubts. Asked by Wolfe Research analyst Tim Anderson about the company's lofty projection, Bourla said he's is “very, very comfortable” with the 6% figure. Analysts currently don’t model that level of growth for the drugmaker, Anderson pointed out, so he wondered if Wall Street was missing something. 

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Bourla and other execs didn't get into details about future guidance, but they said the company is confident in its new meds and pipeline programs. The company also won't be looking for major M&A, Bourla said, as a big deal could disrupt its momentum. 

Bourla has served as Pfizer's CEO since early this year and has managed efforts to make Pfizer a “smaller, science-based company with a singular focus on innovation,” he said in a statement Tuesday. He'll become the company's chairman in January after longtime chair and former CEO Ian Read steps down. 

Late last year, the drugmaker inked a massive deal with GlaxoSmithKline to spin off its consumer health unit into a joint venture with the London drug giant. That deal wrapped up in August. In July, Pfizer agreed to merge its generics division Upjohn with Mylan; that agreement is expected to close next year.

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Upjohn revenues slipped 26% in the third quarter versus the same period last year, Pfizer reported. But on the flip side, execs said new launches and pipeline progress will drive growth in the years to come.

New rare disease drug Vyndaqel is surpassing expectations after its May launch, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote in a note. The drug pulled in $79 million in third-quarter U.S. sales, besting consensus estimates of $21 million. Raffat predicted there will be a “broad estimate revision” coming for the drug.  

Pfizer also has biosimilar launches planned for December, January and February, Bourla said on Tuesday's conference call. 

Overall for the quarter, Pfizer’s biopharma unit grew revenues 9% versus the same period last year to $10.1 billion. Drugs including Ibrance, Xeljanz, Eliquis and Inlyta chipped in along with Vyndaqel. Overall during the period, Pfizer beat analyst expectations and lifted its own guidance for the remainder of 2019.