Pfizer: Bigger Not Necessarily Better

| About: Pfizer Inc. (PFE)

As everyone who follows the industry knows, Pfizer has spent the last 20 years just getting bigger and bigger. Not that they haven't shed people, buildings, and whole research sites - have they ever - but they've shed those resources after buying them first. And as everyone who follows the industry knows, Pfizer's own labs have, either through bad luck or something more systemic, been rather unproductive during that same period. And now Lipitor moves ever closer to its patent expiration. What to do?

Well, this post by Matthew Herper at Forbes has one analyst's answer, and it might just be what Pfizer's CEO is thinking as well. It's something new, all right: get smaller.

Bernstein Pharmaceuticals analyst Tim Anderson has a note out this morning suggesting that Pfizer could sell, spin off, or otherwise divest divisions accounting for $32 billion of its $67 billion in sales, reinventing itself as a pure pharmaceutical research firm like Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMS), or AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN).

"We recently met with Pfizer’s new CEO Ian Read, and had we not heard it firsthand, we might not have appreciated just how serious he is about potentially splitting up the company," Anderson writes. He goes on to say that Pfizer may shrink its revenue base by 40%, leaving behind only what Read calls the "innovative core."

The more cynical among you might be saying "Where this innovative core, eh?," but hear the guy out. He's talking about ditching all of Pfizer's non-pharma assets, and cutting back to ... discovering drugs. Combine that with the recent cutbacks in various therapeutic areas, and you have a Pfizer that's actually turning its back on the strategy of the last two decades. Bigger, as it turns out, has not been better. Who knew?

Well, a lot of people, for sure. I've been complaining about it, genius that I am, for years now, but I'm sure not alone. It's interesting to see someone at the top, though, who's willing to admit this and to act on it. If he does, though, it'll be impossible not to wonder what might have been if the company hadn't made the big round trip through all those acquisitions. The core pharma assets that they're thinking about cutting back to are the pieces and hunks of a lot of other companies, whose people and departments have been shaken and jerked around something fierce. What shape would they be in if they hadn't been Pfizerized? We'll never know.

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