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Pfizer Takes a Flogging

Pfizer continued to feel the impact of last year's safety controversy involving COX-2 arthritis drugs, which include the company's Celebrex and Bextra. Celebrex remains on the market, but Bextra's sales were suspended in April after the Food and Drug Administration said its risks outweighed its benefits.

Pfizer disputes the FDA's assessment, and it's trying to convince the agency that the drug can return to the market. Celebrex sales fell 44% to $446 million with the decline fairly evenly spread among U.S. and foreign markets.

As for other big-name drugs, the blood pressure drug Norvasc produced a 9% sales gain to $1.13 billion, the antidepressant Zoloft added only 1% to $807 million, and sales of the antibiotic Zithromax rose 19% to $402 million.

Sales of the impotence drug Viagra skidded 4% worldwide to $386 million, with U.S. sales losing 7% and foreign sales gaining 14%.

Generic competition took a toll on the epilepsy drug Neurontin, whose sales declined 80% to $155 million, and the antifungal Diflucan, whose sales sank 52% to $103 million.

In other matters, Pfizer removed some of the mystery involving dalbavancin, an experimental injectable antibiotic that was obtained when the company acquired Vicuron Pharmaceuticals.

The FDA was supposed to have ruled on the product Sept. 21, but neither Pfizer nor the agency said anything. Analysts speculated that Pfizer received conditional approval. On Thursday, Pfizer confirmed the conditional clearance, saying that "we anticipate a rapid and successful resolution of outstanding issues" that will allow final approval in the coming months.

McKinnell added that "all options are open" regarding the repatriation of earnings from foreign subsidiaries thanks to a one-time tax holiday law signed by President Bush last year. Pfizer has repatriated $36.9 billion at a sharply reduced tax rate. McKinnell said some of the money has been applied to paying down debt, but he said he wasn't interested in using the money for a big acquisition.

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