Pfizer ( PFE) is preparing for its third-quarter earnings announcement with a theme that could be called "All Lipitor, All the Time."

Neither uncertainty about COX-2 arthritis drugs, nor looming generic competition for big drugs, nor regulatory setbacks garners as much attention these days as Lipitor.

From patent challenges and product-line extensions to managed-care decisions and research prospects, Lipitor is the focal point. For Pfizer, the goal is to protect and expand the cholesterol drug that produced $10.9 billion in sales last year and 24% of corporate revenue.

Any jolt to Lipitor would certainly weaken Pfizer, whose stock continues to meander between a 52-week low of $21.99 and a 52-week high of $30.50, and it will probably do so until Wall Street has less uncertainty about patent challenges to the drug. The stock closed at $24.13 Tuesday.

Pfizer will issue third-quarter results Thursday. The consensus prediction from Thomson First Call is for a profit of 48 cents a share, excluding items, and revenue of $12.52 billion. Last year, Pfizer earned 55 cents, before items, with revenue of $12.83 billion.

Recent Lipitor news has been positive. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack in people with the most common form of diabetes and who have certain risk factors. The agency also cleared Lipitor for reducing the risk of stroke in some nondiabetics.

The bigger story came when a British court rejected a challenge to Lipitor's main patent, which expires in late 2011. The court declared invalid a separate patent that expires in 2010. Pfizer would have had to lose both challenges to allow generic competition in the U.K.

New Fight

The British case was simply a warm-up for a similar court battle in the U.S., where Lipitor sales totaled $6.6 billion last year. Analysts say investors shouldn't draw any conclusions from the British ruling because U.K. and U.S. patent laws are different.

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