Pfizer drops Exubera amid lagging sales

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Pfizer folded its cards on Exubera, eating a $2.8 billion write-off of associated assets.

The move to can the flagging inhaled insulin product was announced amid a gloomy third-quarter earnings report. Pfizer chairman and CEO Jeff Kindler said in a release: “Despite our best efforts, Exubera has failed to gain the acceptance of patients and physicians. We have therefore concluded that further investment in this product is unwarranted. We will work with physicians to transition Exubera patients to other treatment options in the next three months. We remain committed to investing significant resources in the development of new and innovative medicines to manage diabetes, including monitoring inhalation technologies and other innovative delivery systems for insulin and other medicines.”

Pfizer won't have to transition too many patients to other options. Sales of the inhaled insulin, knocked for its bulky “bong-like” delivery system, scorned by payors over pricing and hit by fears over respiratory side effects, were just $4 million for the second quarter of 2007.

Just last month, company officials said the firm was working on two next-generation delivery devices for the product to address design concerns. In June, the firm announced a “full-court press” for the product, including a consumer ad campaign, by Kaplan Thaler Group, which launched in July, and specialized sales support. TV spots for Exubera featured the tagline: “Now I get it.”

Professional advertising and relationship marketing for the brand were handled by Grey Healthcare Group and G2, respectively.

Exubera wasn't the only bad news from Pfizer, whose worldwide pharmaceutical revenues slipped 4% for the third quarter over last year. Revenues for Zoloft and Norvasc, which recently lost US exclusivity, were down 54% for the quarter over last year, while Lipitor revenues dipped 5% to $3.2 billion (revenues slid 13% in the US but rose 9% in international markets, due mainly to the "favorable impact of foreign exchange").

There were some glimmers of hope in the numbers, if not enough to make up for the looming patent expirations eating up analysts, as Celebrex revenues rose 8% to $577 million for the period, year-on-year, amid strong DTC advertising, and Lyrica revenues grew 37% to $465 million. Chantix saw quarterly revenues of $241 million, and should benefit from the consumer campaign that launched last month.

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