Pfizer, Drug Sector March Higher

Merck, Lilly and Bristol-Myers are among the advancing issues.
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Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

said the preliminary results from a new study found that diabetic patients who took its cholesterol-lowering medicine Lipitor had significantly fewer heart attacks, strokes and surgical procedures compared with those who received a placebo.

In the Collaborative Atorvastatin Diabetes Study at University College of London, roughly 2,800 patients with type-2 diabetes and no previous history of heart disease or stroke were treated with Lipitor at 10 milligrams a day or a placebo to compare the effectiveness of the drug in reducing major coronary events, strokes or surgical revascularization procedures.

The company said as a result of the benefits demonstrated by Lipitor, the planned 4-year study is being stopped 2 years early. Eight months ago, another trial was halted more than two years ahead of schedule after the study showed that patients with normal or slightly elevated cholesterol levels who took Lipitor had fewer fatal coronary events and nonfatal heart attacks than patients treated with a placebo.

Shares of Pfizer were lately up $1.07, or 3%, to $34.15.

Separately, Banc of America Securities said that the low expectations for Pfizer's analyst meeting on Tuesday could provide an opportunity for the stock to move higher.

The research firm believes that Pfizer's pipeline is underappreciated and recommended buying the stock ahead of the meeting. Banc of America also said Pfizer's 2003 earnings guidance could inch lower because of a minor delay in closing the acquisition of

Pharmacia

(PHA)

, but indicated that a slight downward adjustment shouldn't be seen too negatively.

Among other major drugmakers,

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

was gaining nearly 2% to $60.29, just below a 52-week high.

Bristol-Myers Squibb

(BMY) - Get Report

was up 2% to $27.73.

GlaxoSmithKline

(GSK) - Get Report

was also adding 2%, to $41.92. The Amex Pharmaceutical Index was better by nearly 3%.

Eli Lilly

(LLY) - Get Report

was higher by 3% to $67.12 and was making some news of its own. Fulcrum upgraded its rating on Lilly and raised its price target on the stock, and the company said study results were encouraging from two drugs it's developing separately with

Amylin Pharmaceuticals

(AMLN)

and

Alkermes

(ALKS) - Get Report

.

The Amex Biotech Index was up 3%, and the Nasdaq Biotech Index was climbing 2%.