AstraZeneca merger could bring the vaccines heft Pfizer's been looking for

Pfizer CEO Ian Read

Earlier this week, Pfizer ($PFE) reported that its vaccines unit managed a 2% revenue increase in Q1, with anchor Prevnar 13's worldwide sales missing consensus estimates. But if CEO Ian Read can wrap up the deal with AstraZeneca ($AZN) he's been hankering for, that business could get a boost in the not-too-distant future.

Pfizer is angling for a megamerger of colossal proportions, last week logging its second $100 billion-plus bid for the British drugmaker. And with the New York company's longstanding stated interest in expanding its vaccines business, AstraZeneca's vaccine assets are one of its draws, ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum told FierceVaccines in an email.

Pfizer has "a full commercial infrastructure built, so layering on new revenue should be very profitable," he said. "AstraZeneca acquisition helps them do just this."

Pfizer could use AZ's marketed products like FluMist in its own lineup, which right now essentially consists of Prevnar. And though the pneumococcal product is the best-selling shot in the world, it's not enough to vault Pfizer into the arena with the Big 3--third-ranking Sanofi ($SNY), No. 2 Merck ($MRK) and leader GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), which will only be getting bigger as it swallows the Novartis business it picked up in a recent deal.

AstraZeneca also has a nasal four-in-one flu vaccine, Fluenz Tetra, that recently grabbed European approval, as well as a trio of shots in Phase I development, including candidates for avian influenza and pediatric RSV. The latter three would flesh out Pfizer's pipeline, which currently stars an FDA-designated breakthrough candidate for meningitis B.

As analysts have noted, bulking up could also help Pfizer prepare for an eventual sale or spinoff of one or more of its three separate operating units. The vaccines business falls into a segment also comprising consumer health and oncology--overall a unit the company has tapped for high growth going forward. AstraZeneca's vaccines, as well as its promising cancer immunotherapy candidates, would only make that unit more attractive in the event of a split-up down the line.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

But all of that depends on how AstraZeneca's shareholders feel about the merger, and the British company is doing its best to convince them it's better off on its own. Wednesday, the drugmaker outlined its stand-alone strategy for investors, with CEO Pascal Soriot stressing that the company "now has the right size, focus and team to deliver on one of the most exciting pipelines in the pharmaceutical industry."

Special Report: Top 5 Vaccine Companies by Revenue - 2012 - Pfizer