Pfizer needs consumer unit as pipeline in prescription to OTC trend

CEO Ian Read

Pfizer CEO Ian Read has given yet another glimpse into the future of the drugmaker as he shapes it into a more efficient pharmaceutical operation. In a disappointing disclosure to those who look for more spinoffs, he said Pfizer will hold onto its consumer health business. 

Why? Because Read expects there to be a growing trend toward moving prescription drugs to over-the-counter status, and that unit is all about OTC, according to Bloomberg. He made the observation during a call with analysts last week. Amy Schulman, who runs that business call it a "an important harbinger of where the market is going."

The FDA last year asked for input on moving some drugs from prescription to OTC status but it is in emerging markets, where Read sees this likely to take off. "You could potentially see emerging markets moving faster on this OTC switch than the very cautious" FDA, Read said. And Pfizer wants all avenues for tapping emerging markets. Like its peers, it sees markets like China providing the growth now being lost in mature markets. 

Read has been streamlining Pfizer over the past two years, shedding business units to return cash to shareholders and focus in on Pfizer's core drugs businesses. Pfizer sold its Capsugel unit, is in the process of unloading its nutrition business to Nestle, and has started spinning off its animal health unit under the Zoetis name. Some analysts thought the consumer unit was likely to be next. 

But as Bloomberg points out, Pfizer has made some moves to boost its consumer health unit. Last year it bought from AstraZeneca ($AZN) the rights to sell the heartburn medicine Nexium over the counter. And when it was trying to save Lipitor from the inevitable crush of generics, it entertained the idea of making an OTC version of the one-time mega-blockbuster. 

- read the Bloomberg story

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