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The End of Blockbuster Drugs

As Pfizer's (PFE) Celebrex safety hiccup was unfolding Friday, I had a running conversation with a fund manager. Over the course of several phone calls and instant messages, this fund manager vented his frustration, arguing that from a medical and scientific standpoint, the Celebrex scare was overblown.

At the proper (low) dosages, Celebrex wasn't causing an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, he argued. And he felt that as long as Pfizer kept the drug on the market (which he was confident would happen), doctors would continue to prescribe it to their patients.

This fund manager is a smart guy, but he's in the dark about what's really going on with Pfizer right now. There is a public hysteria over Celebrex and the entire class of so-called COX-2 inhibitors . People are scared that if they pop a Celebrex, a Vioxx or a Bextra in their mouths, they're going to keel over from a heart attack! Blame the media or the tort lawyers for inciting this fear -- it doesn't matter. Because right now, as far as Wall Street is concerned, Celebrex sales are balanced precariously on a cliff whether or not the drug is ultimately pulled from the market. (Can you imagine a doctor prescribing Celebrex these days?)

Jim Cramer gets it when he asked on Monday why, according to Pfizer, is Celebrex safe enough to sell to the public, but not safe enough to advertise on television? The Food and Drug Administration -- already under withering criticism for what it did, or didn't do, about Merck's (MRK) Vioxx safety problem -- doesn't seem to be in a position to go easy on Pfizer.

In public comments Friday, FDA interim chief Les Crawford said the agency is concerned about the safety of the entire COX-2 drug class, adding that the FDA is recommending that doctors seek alternative therapies to Celebrex for their patients. This doesn't exactly sound like a guy who's looking for a top spot on Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell's Christmas card list.

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