In November 2015, Pfizer and Allergan announced a US$160 billion merger deal. Once finalized, the Pfizer-Allergan deal would follow three large mergers/acquisitions concluded by Pfizer in the last 15 years. Though relocation to Ireland to save higher corporate tax in USA is apparently the main purpose of this merger, it is expected to create a pharmaceutical powerhouse with more than US$60 billion in annual revenue. In the light of competitive advantage this deal is anticipated to yield, it becomes imperative to look at Pfizer’s evolution since its first mega deal in 2000.
Pfizer acquired US-based Warner-Lambert in a US$110 billion deal in 2000. With this acquisition, Pfizer gained ownership of blockbuster anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, besides some popular consumer health brands, such as Listerine. Lambert deal was shortly followed by US$60 billion purchase of US-based Pharmacia in 2003. The deal, while catapulting Pfizer’s revenue by more than US$12 billion, allowed it to gain control of successful brands, such as Celebrex (inflammation) and Xalatan (glaucoma), along with R&D pipeline of cancer drugs and a specialist-focused sales force of Pharmacia.
Pfizer waited six years for its next acquisition, and bought US-based Wyeth for US$68 billion in 2009. This deal came amid imminent expiry of Pfizer’s 14 patents through 2014, including its best-selling drug Lipitor in 2011. Pfizer looked to benefit from Wyeth’s leadership position in vaccines, nutritionals, and biologics, including Prevnar, the first pneumococcal vaccine for infants. Wyeth’s portfolio potential had indeed been locked, as evident in the net 30%-90% increase in sales of its key brands between 2009 and 2014, post-acquisition.
These three deals helped Pfizer in becoming a US$50 billion company with a diverse product portfolio. However, it came with a challenge of ensuring operational efficiency and leveraging synergies with acquired companies. This was achieved through a range of adjustments, including lay-offs to eliminate overlaps and to consolidate various functions. Pfizer deals were severe on the employees of acquired companies, with more than 90,000 jobs eliminated (which may have included those lost to attrition) between 2000 and 2014. At the time of each deal, there were apprehensions regarding the future of research and development in Pfizer. Though the company managed to maintain its R&D budget at about 16% of revenues, several sites (including six from Wyeth and two from Pharmacia) were closed post acquisitions. It was soon reflected in the company’s product pipe line, with only 17 applications filed for new product approval between 2007 and 2014, in contrast to 43 during 2000-2006.
To sum up Pfizer’s strategy, the company acquired rivals with blockbuster brands to boost its topline, and to benefit from pooling of resources. The strategy worked on most counts, except for Celebrex where the sales failed to take off partially due to pull-out (from market) of a rival drug (Merck’s Vioxx) in 2004 owing to safety reasons. Notwithstanding the criticism for massive lay-offs, Pfizer managed to create a lean organization, thereby improving its revenue per employee.
Pfizer’s next acquisition target, Allergan, came in to existence following Ireland-based Actavis’ acquisition of USA-based Allergan Inc. in March 2015, post which the combined entity was renamed Allergan. Allergan then sold its generic drugs business to Israeli rival Teva Pharmaceuticals in July 2015.
As Pfizer’s deal with Allergan looks in sight, there are speculations regarding future shape of the combined entity in terms of employee strength, sales focus, and future product pipeline (i.e. R&D).
Pfizer-Allergan deal involves trimming of sales and administration expenses by more than US$1.0 billion. This is likely to be achieved (mostly) in North America where Allergan operations are concentrated.
Cuts worth more than US$600 million are expected in R&D. With Teva deal, Allergan showed intent to focus on branded proprietary drugs, and Pfizer is also a predominantly green-field research organization. Therefore it is not clear yet, which product programs will face the ax due to little overlap in research focus of two companies.
As Allergan declared end to lay-offs in June 2015, it was expected that most of the Actavis acquisition-related restructuring activity was over by the time Pfizer-Allergan deal was announced. This means the cost savings linked with Pfizer-Allergan merger will result from the existing operations (as of November 2015) of the two companies.
Based on precedence of Pfizer takeovers, there is a likelihood that Allergan might bear most of the brunt of cost cutting measures. However, at the outset, a simple merger is not likely to impact either efficiency or earnings (from R&D perspective) of the combined entity due to nearly identical revenue per employee (as of 2014) for both the companies, and Allergan’s significantly lower R&D expenditure (8% of its revenue vs. Pfizer’s 16%).
Cost cutting is likely to be undertaken with an eye on revenue and profitability in mid to long term. From Allergan’s perspective, we anticipate this to be achieved through the following:
Focus on products in the pipeline with good growth prospects: Allergan’s Rapastinel (anti-depressant) and Vraylar (schizophrenia) are in this category; another option for Pfizer-Allergan is to focus on drugs that are in advanced stages of trials i.e. Phase III and IV
Focus on high revenue earning products: While most Pfizer products (including those off-patented in recent years) generate revenues in the range of US$200 million to US$5 billion, Allergan’s portfolio is still underdeveloped (due to limited global exposure) except for few products from central nervous system (CNS), gastroenterology, and women’s health segments
At present, only mere speculations can be offered regarding the future shape of the combined entity, as no concrete steps have been announced. It will be interesting to track the decisions taken by Pfizer-Allergan in the coming months to achieve targeted cost savings.