Pfizer is a biopharmaceutical company that produces more than 200 drugs to help patients with everything from pain management to cancer. The company is over 150 years old and originally was a chemical manufacturing company. Headquartered in New York City and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, a sample of its well-known products include Viagra, Lipitor, Lyrica, Xanax, and Zoloft. But they also provide over the counter medications that do not require a doctor’s prescription. Among those drugs are Advil, Nexium, and Robitussin.
But hidden away from the ideas of advertisers and marketers are some fascinating facts about the history of the company and some of those factoids that make Pfizer more than just a drug and medicine provider. As you will see, some of these facts directly influenced the direction of the country – and in some cases, the world as we know it.
As you go down the list remember that drug companies, like any other business, exist to make a profit, Perhaps more than most other types of businesses, drug manufacturers have to deal with levels of testing and regulation that impeded progress and in some cases, prevent a life saving drug from making it to market. The amount of money they need to invest in research and development to even think about getting a drug to market is considerable.
Pfizer is the number one Big Pharma in many ways, but sometimes it is hard to tell after reading the list that follows. It has a history of being founded at the end of the 19th century, a time when the idea of drugs being manufactured en masse and having a global distribution was almost unheard of.
Here is the list of 20 fun facts that may change the way you look at the company.
1. One of the company’s most counterfeited and talked about drugs, Viagra, is used to help infants.
First, it is used on both male and female babies – preemies to be specific. Many premature babies are subject to long term health problems because their lungs have not fully developed, which causes a lack of oxygen to be transported through their bodies. You may have seen preemies on respirators. But one of the qualities of Viagra is it widens the blood vessels inside the lungs, allowing them to function more efficiently and lowering their blood pressure as an added benefit. The amount of Viagra used is very tiny, but it sufficient enough to get the preemie off the respirator in a shorter period of time and reduces the likelihood that as the child grows that they will have any significant long term health issues.
2. The company seems to like to hide behind the biggest Big Pharma companies.
Maybe the reason is so that it does not draw too much attention to itself (see #13 and #14 below). Now Pfizer just happens to be the world’s largest drug maker by the numbers. Yet this fact is often hidden from investors and other financial types because Johnson and Johnson along with a select few other Big Pharma companies have a higher market capitalization value (more money). But when it comes to narrowing down the focus to strictly drug sales, Pfizer is higher than all of them. The same idea holds true for the amount the company spends on research and development. Financial analysts pay close attention to the amount of money a company spends on R&D, but in that calculation they exclude mergers and acquisitions from the final tally. When you include all of Pfizer’s M&A numbers, it ends up at the top of the list.
3. It has been referred to as a Zombie stock by some investment analysts.
The value of a company is usually (but not always) determined by its stock price, and some Big Pharma financial analysts are wondering what the future of Pfizer stock will be. The main problem with any pharmaceutical company is that the patents on its existing drug inventory are cyclical, meaning they tend to rise and fall over time on a predictable basis. So once their patents expire, the generic alternatives can be manufactured and made available to the public. This has the potential for the company to lose market share and revenue if there are not new products in the pipeline. Pfizer has a number of new drugs scheduled for release in 2020 should they successfully go through the FDA phase testing protocols, but some of their existing inventory will become generic a year or two before then. That fact leaves little room for growth for investors, while it is also possible that the drugs in the pipeline will actually result in reliable revenue to replace the projected lost revenue.
4. The company’s recent attempts at growth and expansion were interfered with by government regulators.
As recently as 2015, the government created regulations that stymied Pfizer’s attempts at acquiring Botox manufacturer Allergan, a deal that was valued at more than $150 billion. It made the media headlines for several months. That acquisition sought to allow Pfizer to move its corporate headquarters, and its tax obligations, to Dublin, Ireland. Those new government regulations, passed in April of 2016, slammed the door shut on any tax advantages that would result from the merger, so Pfizer eventually decided to cancel the deal rather than add another company to its roster where no significant advantage could be financially realized.
5. A $2.3 billion settlement was reached with the Department of Justice for Pfizer’s off-shelf marketing of Bextra in 2009.
This will not be the first time Pfizer has been caught with its hands in the off-shelf drug cache, but this issue is particularly interesting because of how so many people missed the event when it actually happened. It is also likely to be a reason why so many people have never heard of it even 9 years later. The short version is that Pfizer marketed a drug called Bextra to patients that exceeded its authority granted by the FDA. When the government finally caught up with them, the company was found guilty and the $2.3 billion fine was levied. But Pfizer hid this fact in its 2009 4th quarter financial reports by highlighting its merger with Wyeth and minimizing the amount of press it gave to the fine. Give credit to Pfizer for playing on the speed of information reality that dominates the business and consumer world today. Few people noticed back in 2009, and even fewer people care in 2017 if the price of its stock is any indication.
6. It was convicted in Federal court of violating the RICO racketeering laws.
Though Pfizer still does not agree with the judge’s decision, the company had to pay out $141 million for another off-shelf marketing campaign of its Gabapentin drug, which was once sold under the name of Neurontin. The company did admit that it had violated FDA regulations by selling the drug off-shelf for use, directing its campaign to patients who had bipolar disorders and were suffering from migraine headaches. It was the sale to these groups which led to the RICO statute violation charges and fine. But the research shows that Gabapentin has even had mixed results in treating its primary targets, epilepsy and diabetic neuropathy, but is still used to treat other medical disorders.
7. Singer Patti LaBelle is working with Pfizer to promote one of its drug awareness campaigns.
This is not your standard drug awareness campaign that sends the message to avoid taking street drugs, but to actually take drugs. In this latest advertising campaign, the drug to be “pushed” is one proven to prevent pneumonia, or what is medically called a pneumococcal infection. The campaign is titled, “Know Pneumonia,” and intended to make older people aware of the existence of the Prevnar-13 vaccine, encouraging this group of people to go to the doctor and get vaccinated if they have not had a recent booster shot. While the vaccine will not cause a person to get pneumonia, a common fear, it will activate the body’s immune system to create antibodies to fight off any potential infection.
8. Pfizer played a critical role in health and medicine during the First World War.
What would modern medicine be like without pain killers, anesthetics, and antibiotics? The company led the charge during World War 1 as it manufactured antibiotics such as iodine, disinfectants, pain killers such as morphine and chloroform, and preservatives that reduced the amount of bacteria allowed to form when food was shipped throughout the world. Though these are not only common, but expected processes of food and drug companies today, it was a brave new world 75 years ago.
9. Pfizer was instrumental in saving lives during the Second World War as well.
Pfizer got actively involved in yet another war effort only 30 years later. It was the only company producing penicillin in 1941 that was using fermentation technology to produce penicillin, which allowed it to produce it in mass quantities. The government requested Pfizer to ramp up production even further to meet the needs of men and women fighting the wars on both sides of the world, which it did. Before many of the modern wonder drugs were available, penicillin was critical in dealing with a number of medical problems on and off the battlefield. There was, and is, much talk about the dangers of a military-industrial complex but here is one of the times the alliance benefitted many Americans abroad and at home.
10. Pfizer has a connected history to being one of the original medical marijuana providers.
Of course this is a historical note, as the company’s involvement in the legal sale of medical marijuana is connected to Parke-Davis which was bought by Pfizer a number of years ago. But back in 1919, medical marijuana was found in about 6 percent of the total number of drugs available on the market, and it was a common practice to focus on sales rather than government regulation. There is no current evidence that Pfizer intends to get involved in an international medical marijuana trade given the existing regulation in the United States, but it is reasonable to make a case that should the lid come off of the restrictions, Pfizer would be one of the industry leaders in medical marijuana sales sooner than later.
11. Critics of the company maintain that it has ceased being an innovator and instead becoming a buyer of other smaller drug companies.
The earlier accusation of Pfizer being a Zombie company for investment has some support from public health advocates who are claiming Pfizer no longer does any actual research, but has just been buying up companies that are actually doing something medically related. Pfizer just turns around, and after acquiring the company, markets their products as Pfizer innovations. They have also been accused of misleading the public with the amount of raw materials required to bring a new drug to market. An example is in Great Britain a poster campaign said that it took 1 billion pounds of raw materials to make a drug when the actual amount was 141 pounds. Was this simply an unintended misprint? One conclusion that has been drawn is that Pfizer may be set to lose its number one spot as the world’s largest supplier of drugs and is acting in desperation.
12. Pfizer actually conducted a Global Sexual Habits Survey in Malaysia.
We are talking habits, not a research study here with a limited number of people. One specific study that has been recently done in April of 2017 showed that sexual intercourse is a planned activity in Malaysia, and it is done hours in advance. The results of the study included a discussion of ED, which of course Pfizer used as a lead in to advertising the company’s popular Viagra product. You cannot say that Pfizer does not know how to market its products.
13. The company has been known to be involved with greasing some palms to boost sales.
Promoting a drug is one thing, outright bribery is quite another. Pfizer has been fined by overseas regulators for bribing government and regulatory officials to encourage hospitals to use their drugs, with the result of boosting sales in European countries. The company took a more direct route in countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, and Bulgaria by bribing doctors with cash to prescribe their products.
14. Their internal corruption has not been limited only to peddling their finished products.
The research business of Ischemia Research and Education Foundation had investigated its lead statistician, Ping Hsu, after they became suspicious that some critical research data had been made available to unauthorized companies. The data in question was for a pain medication drug, Brextra, which coincidentally Pfizer was researching as well. The foundation had sued Pfizer for stealing trade secrets and greasing the palm of Hsu. But when they traced the leads back to Hsu, it is alleged Pfizer and Hsu collaborated to destroy any and all proof of the corruption. Even though no direct damning evidence was found, there was enough circumstantial evidence for a court to award $38 million to the foundation for its loss of trade secrets.
15. A German Law Professor uses Pfizer as a textbook example in teaching law.
The textbook, titled “Pfizer and the Challenges of the Global Pharmaceutical Industry” has been written by Dr. Axel Jorn. Dr. Jorn is a Professor at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany. He holds the position of a Chair of Public Law I and is also a professor of Public Law, Public International Law, and European Law at Buceruis. The textbook is required reading for his students, and goes into considerable detail about how Pfizer and the law manage to become study-worthy. It is also worth noting that the Bucerius Law School has international campuses around the world, and is seen as one of the more innovative law schools in the world.
16. Its largest product sales come from vaccines that immunize children and the elderly.
With all the talk about Viagra and Lipitor you would think that these two drugs would lead the list. But far ahead of its number 2 drug, Lipitor, is what is known as the Prevnar family of drugs. This group of drugs prevents diseases such as meningitis from spreading, as well as helping to prevent blood infections. Prevnar-13 gets a lot of credit for keeping the number of deaths from these and other related infections below 200 per year. For the record, Lyrica is #2, $1 billion behind Prevnar, and Viagra is limping behind at number 6.
17. Pfizer played both sides of the political aisle in the 2016 election.
Pfizer is well-known to have a heavy hand in lobbying and political contributions during elections, but the company is not obviously politically motivated by party. A look at the 2016 campaign contributions made include Hillary Clint0n, Paul Ryan, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Pat Toomey, and Rob Portman. An interesting list to say the least, but nobody can accuse them of playing favorites.
18. Other than developing drugs for humans, the company has an equal commitment to developing drugs for animals.
When we take our pet to the vet or buy chicken from the grocery store, we rarely think about exactly who is making the drugs and vaccines that keep our food and pets safe and healthy. Look no further than Pfizer, who is responsible for many of the antibiotics that are used to ensure the health and safety of our food supply. Though they are the manufacturers of Preparation-H (but not for animals) there is a lot of behind the scenes work they are doing to make our overall lives better.
19. The company’s General Counsel lawyer is an LGBT advocate.
Doug Lankler had been noted by the investment publication The Financial Times as being one of the top 30 advocates of LGBT rights within the ranks of corporate executives. But his real talent lies in getting in and out of lawsuits brought against the company, the latest settlement being a $785 million offer to resolve issues with Pfizer’s heartburn drug Protonix.
20. Pfizer is very active in the war against counterfeit drugs.
And for good reason. As the world’s leading drug manufacturer and distributor, the counterfeits cut into their bottom line, But more than that, the counterfeits usually endanger the user’s health with the result of the company having to deal with the continuous stream of lawsuits brought against it from people who were not taking actual Pfizer drugs.
After reading this list of factoids, what should strike you is the strange combination of good and bad the company has delivered to the public and to the world from its position as the world’s largest drug company. It may be the nature of all the Big Pharma companies, who have been accused of price gouging the public through manipulating drug prices and insurance companies. In a way, it seems that Pfizer is just another example of how success comes with some unwanted side effects.
It is hard to say that all of the bad points that made the list are out of malice for the patient. While an ongoing political discussion about health care and its cost, there is simultaneously a conversation going on about the amount of regulation that hampers businesses and profitability. Given the evidence from Pfizer, a solution to the conflict is far into the distant future because everyone who has a disease wants a cure, and are willing to pay for that cure.
This leaves the question about what it is exactly that we as consumers should do in regard to the rather consistent violation of FDA and government regulations concerning the drugs created by Pfizer. This is not like a bank – too big to fail. It is more about whether the amount of good they do outweighs the more than a few bad instances. Those instances can cost people their lives or result in some ugly long term side effects for the patient. Doctors are more likely to recommend a drug on the basis of what the company tells them. Presuming the doctor is acting in the patient’s best interest, it is hard for them to turn away a potential life saving treatment.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker