Pfizer's Chantix and Celebrex: An Anti-Smoking Double Play

| About: Pfizer Inc. (PFE)

There's way too much stuff out of ASCO to do a comprehensive blog entry that would satisfy readers--especially small-cap biotechies. I mean, there are literally thousands of pages of research being published today by analysts on the new data.

I've had to permanently delete reports a few times already because the files are so big. So, I'm gonna stay away from all that here. Instead, I want to highlight what I think is one of the most interesting studies released Thursday night. It's not really a needle-mover (at least, not yet) for the world's biggest drug company, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), but it's definitely a good watercooler, talkabout item.

Pfizer markets a new stop-smoking pill Chantix which, despite a recent psychiatric side-effect warning, looks like it could be a blockbuster-in-the-making. But could it also have an unlikely, older product to offer smokers as well? Researchers at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the nation's leading oncology hospitals, think so.

They put out this press release when the embargo lifted on all of the ASCO studies at 9 pm ET Thursday night touting a study that shows Pfizer's painkiller Celebrex may help prevent lung cancer.

Doctors enrolled a couple hundred current and former smokers in the study and gave them two different doses of Celebrex. And, especially among the current smokers who got the highest dose of Celebrex, they report a decrease in "markers" for lung cancer. What's going on? In simple terms, the experts say there's something called a COX-2 enzyme that lives in tumors and fuels their growth. Celebrex is a COX-2 inhibitor.

Celebrex is the only COX-2 inhibitor still for sale. Merck (NYSE:MRK) pulled Vioxx and Pfizer pulled Bextra off the market a few years ago because of heart side effects. In fact, this study was stopped for awhile during the COX-2 safety scare, but later given a green light to resume once officials were comfortable Celebrex wouldn't hurt people. Indeed, the researchers report that they've seen no heart side effects in this approximately six-year study.

Dr. Waun Ki Hong is quoted in the press release as saying, "The Celebrex findings are exciting for the entire field of lung cancer chemoprevention." He and his colleagues will present updated data from the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, at the ASCO meeting at the end of this month.

Celebrex sales took a hit during the Vioxx-Bextra recall fallout, but have been climbing back. Revenue was $2.3 billion last year, up from $2 billion in 2006, but still well below 2004's $3.3 billion. (Vioxx was pulled at the end of the third quarter of that year.)

In a down market, PFE shares, as I write this, are back in the "teenager" category again.

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