San Francisco, January 9, 2024 – The race to dominate the burgeoning obesity market has taken an unexpected turn as Pfizer Inc. (PFE.N) reiterates its commitment to the sector, following the discontinuation of a high-profile weight-loss drug candidate due to severe side effects. In an exclusive prelude to his presentation at the JPMorgan healthcare conference in San Francisco, Pfizer’s Chief Executive, Albert Bourla, provided insights into the company’s resilient strategy and determination.
“Pfizer’s position is that we believe that obesity is a place that we have the ability to play and win. So we will have to play,” Bourla declared, underscoring the pharmaceutical giant’s unwavering confidence in its capabilities within the obesity market.
This commitment comes in the face of industry projections anticipating the obesity drug market to reach a staggering $100 billion by the end of this decade. Eli Lilly (LLY.N) and Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO) currently lead the charge, boasting blockbuster drugs like Zepbound, Mounjaro, and Wegovy.
Despite Pfizer’s decision to steer clear of multibillion-dollar investments in late-stage development for obesity treatments – a choice aligned with the company’s overarching strategy to cut costs and reduce debt post the $43 billion acquisition of oncology company Seagen – Bourla assured reporters that Pfizer remains actively engaged in exploring licensing deals and early-stage weight-loss drugs.
The pharmaceutical powerhouse has faced its fair share of challenges in recent months, with lower-than-expected sales of its COVID-19 vaccine and treatment. In response to the market dynamics, Pfizer initiated a $4 billion cost-cutting program to streamline its operations and shore up its financial standing.
In a pivotal move last December, Pfizer opted not to advance its twice-daily oral weight-loss drug danuglipron into late-stage studies. This decision was instrumental in the downward revision of 2024 sales projections, falling up to $5 billion below Wall Street expectations, primarily due to shortfalls in its COVID franchise.
The disappointment further deepened with the lackluster performance of Pfizer’s respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, Abrysvo. The vaccine secured only about 35% of the market share in the United States, trailing behind a competitor vaccine from GSK (GSK.L).
Bourla acknowledged GSK’s superior contracting and commercial execution, pointing out that most RSV vaccines were administered in pharmacies where GSK held a dominant position. CVS Health (CVS.N), the largest pharmacy chain in the U.S., exclusively offered GSK’s vaccine for a considerable part of the season.
Expressing dissatisfaction with Pfizer’s commercial operation in 2023, Bourla revealed the departure of former Chief Commercial Officer Angela Hwang last month. In response to these challenges, the company underwent a restructuring, splitting its commercial business into two divisions, one focusing on the United States and the other on the rest of the world.
“Overall, Pfizer didn’t demonstrate that edge that we had as a commercial machine. We took some measures to correct that,” Bourla admitted, emphasizing the company’s commitment to reestablishing its commercial prowess.
As Pfizer navigates these challenges, the pharmaceutical industry will be closely monitoring the company’s strategic maneuvers and adaptability in the dynamic healthcare landscape. The company’s determination to remain at the forefront of the obesity market underscores its resilience and commitment to overcoming hurdles on the path to innovation and market leadership.