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So Much for a Pfizer Biotech Play

Stocks in this article: PFE WYE

Updated from 1:28 9.m. EST

For all the chatter about Pfizer (PFE) wanting to take the bold step of gobbling up a big biotech firm, the pharmaceutical giant may instead revert to familiar ways by merging with its one of its own, Wyeth (WYE), delivering a blow to biotech's solar plexus.

Pfizer is reportedly in talks to acquire Wyeth, although a deal may not be imminent, according to a report Friday in The Wall Street Journal.

A Pfizer-Wyeth combination would create a global pharmaceutical giant with about $75 billion in combined revenue. Pfizer would also be able to wring out considerable cost savings by consolidating back-office staff, and streamlining research and development and sales and manufacturing operations.

The drug sector is rife with problems, which is why consolidation seems like the easy solution. In recent years, cheaper generic competitors have chopped down Big Pharma drugs that once racked up billions of dollars in sales annually. And despite vast spending on R&D, drug companies have been unable to come up with new replacement products to make up for all the eroding revenue. Meantime, government officials and health insurers are starting to take a more aggressive line on drug pricing, adding to the bottom-line pressures of the sector.

If Pfizer's play for Wyeth seems familiar, that's because it is. Pfizer has grown to be the largest drug maker, mainly by swallowing up its rivals -- Warner Lambert in 2000 and Pharmacia in 2003. Both deals appeared to provide Pfizer with short-term relief, but neither solved the company's more intractable problems.

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