3. Pfizer

Pfizer sign
Pfizer made way for a new CEO and announced plans to cut about 2% of its workforce, or about 1,800 jobs. (Tracy Staton)

3. Pfizer
2018 revenue: $53.65 billion
2017 revenue: $52.55 billion
Headquarters: New York City

Pfizer totted up a list of accomplishments and milestones in 2018, besides the fact that it managed to eke out growth of about 2% for the year. It reorganized into three business units, for instance, reviving talk of an eventual generics spinoff and setting up its consumer health business for easier disposal.

It decided the fate of that consumer business, which has been on the block for more than a year. Instead of selling outright, the company decided to tie up with GlaxoSmithKline in a joint venture that’ll operate under the GSK brand when the deal closes later this year.

And in a choice that sent many of Pfizer’s headquarters staffers online looking for building blueprints, the company decided to pack up its ‘60s-era building in Midtown Manhattan and move downtown to The Spiral, a shiny glass skyscraper whose design lives up to its name.

Along the way, Pfizer launched four new cancer drugs in the space of two months, including targeted lung cancer therapy Vizimpro, PARP inhibitor Talzenna, and acute myeloid leukemia treatment Daurismo. Its breast cancer drug Ibrance and prostate cancer drug Xtandi continued racking up sales growth, and data for new indications, too.

Plus, its immunology blockbuster Xeljanz expanded into psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis, adding two big new fields to its first indication in rheumatoid arthritis—even if that drug has since drawn FDA scrutiny for CV problems and deaths that cropped up in a postmarketing trial.

Gains for those products went a long way toward making up for the Viagra generics that started leaching away sales starting in late 2017. And it helped compensate for the Prevnar franchise, a victim of its own success at attracting new groups of patients; its growth has slowed as it taps out the new populations added to its list of FDA-approved indications.

And in the executive suite, Pfizer made way for a new CEO. The company announced in October that Ian Read, who’d captained the ship since 2011, would step down as of Dec. 31, handing the helm over to then-COO Albert Bourla.

Some of Pfizer’s other 2018 milestones weren’t so positive. It weathered a teapot-tempest when Read made nice with President Donald Trump by delaying the company's July price increases, only to suffer renewed criticism when those hikes went through in January. It plowed ahead with manufacturing upgrades designed to fix myriad problems with its sterile injectables, while severe shortages of some of those very drugs frustrated hospitals across the country. Now, Bourla will have to contend with those problems, and he admitted in January that shortages will persist even into 2020.

And in a move that might have pleased Pfizer investors but hurt some of its employees, Pfizer said it would cut about 2% of its workforce, or about 1,800 jobs. Though many of those cuts would be handled with early retirement offers, Pfizer planned “involuntary separations” if the retirement program didn’t attract enough takers.

One thing that Pfizer didn’t do in 2018? Make a big deal that would have boosted revenue, added to its pipeline or soothed investors worried about Lyrica’s imminent patent-cliff tumble, which puts $3.5 billion in U.S. sales at risk this year and depressed the drugmaker's 2019 outlook.

Don’t expect that deal attitude to change anytime soon, if Bourla’s early pledges stick. The new CEO says he’s all-in on innovation for growth rather than big-time M&A. Pfizer now has “the greatest pipeline ever,” Bourla said during the company’s year-end earnings call in January, and it needs to focus on rolling out its own drugs rather than digesting a megamerger. In short, a big transaction could “derail us,” the new CEO contends.

3. Pfizer