Pfizer is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporations. It was started in 1849 by cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart. Pfizer was first established in Brooklyn, New York. Pfizer is a worldwide corporation that operates in over 180 countries with over 79,000 employees.
Pfizer reported 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion, making it the second-largest pharma company in the world. Introduction of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine to be called Comirnaty, which holds 70% of the U.S. and EU market, along with new antiviral Paxlovid, used to treat COVID-19, led to an 92% increase in annual revenue since 2020.
Pfizer’s main specialty are Internal Medicine, Rare Disease, Inflammation and Immunology, Vaccines and Oncology. With 90 candidates in the pipeline, the research and development projects Pfizer is focusing on include newer therapies based on biologics, gene therapies and individualized medicine.
Pfizer also has legal issues as a result of several of their medications. In the past years, Pfizer had to pay court settlements from lawsuits filed against them by patients and accusations of illegal marketing. The most expensive settlement that Pfizer has paid was over $2.3 billion paid as a fine to resolve civil and criminal penalties of illegal marketing for four medications including Bextra, Geodon, Zyvox, and Lyrica.
The company has also faced thousands of lawsuits for medical injuries caused by their medications including drugs such as Bextra, Celebrex, Chantix, Effexor, Zoloft, Prempro, Depo-testosterone, and Lipitor. Many of these lawsuits have been resolved or settled, however some remain in court systems.
History of Pfizer
Pfizer was founded in 1849 by Charles Pfizer and his cousin, Charles Erhart. The company was formed as Charles Pfizer and Company in Brooklyn, New York.
The Civil War (1861-1865) was a time of growth for Pfizer. There was a substantial demand for many types of medical supplies and Pfizer supplied preservatives, disinfectants, iodine, chloroform, and morphine to the war front.
After the Civil War, the company moved headquarters to Manhattan with additional warehouse facilities opened in Chicago. By the turn of the century, Pfizer was a successfully established business, incorporated in New Jersey with privately held stock valued at $2 million.
Pfizer developed a technique for mass producing citric acid in 1919 which eliminated reliance on European supplies. Citric acid was in high demand due to soft drinks that were growing in popularity but research revolving around citric acid production would also later lead to the development of penicillin. In 1936, similar research led to a method of producing ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C and Pfizer became the world’s leading producer of Vitamin C. In 1944, Pfizer began the production of penicillin, becoming the worlds largest producer and followed with tetracycline development in 1950.
In 1952, the company expanded into animal health with a dedicated research farm in Terre Haute, Indiana and acquired J.B. Roerig nutritional company. By 1958, Pfizer was producing medications in Mexico, Italy, and Turkey, conducting research in Connecticut and continued pursuit of further development of novel drugs.
Pfizer was named the “World’s Most Admired Pharmaceutical Company” in 1997 by Forbes Magazine and celebrated 150 years in 1999 with the “Company of the Year” award. In 2000, Pfizer merged with Warner Lambert to form the world’s fastest growing pharma company and again in 2003, merged with Pharmacia, another fast-growing company. In 2009, Pfizer acquired Wyeth, expanding their product line and has since acquired all or parts of or implemented collaboration with Baxter, Hospira, Watson, Corning, King Pharmaceuticals, Innopharma, Redvax, and Anacor Pharmaceuticals.
An expected 2015 Pfizer merger with Allergan fell-through and resulted in changes in laws governing corporations. The company has also spun off or divested its animal health division, along with a number of products. Pfizer merged its consumer health division with GSK to form a new company, Haleon and merged its generic and off-patented branded drug business, Upjohn, with Mylan to form a new company, Viatris.
In 2018, Pfizer signed an agreement with BioNTech to begin investigating mRNA-based influenza vaccines. Though the influenza mRNA technology has not panned out, the platform has since been used to develop Comirnaty, the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine which has captured about 70% of the U.S. and EU market. Much of the 2021 revenue increase was driven by the COVID-19 vaccine and Paxlovid, antiviral treatment used for COVID-19.
The billion-dollar sales threshold was passed in 1972 and Pfizer has produced a number of medications that would become blockbusters. Bestselling pharmaceuticals have included:
- Vibramycin (doxycycline)
- Minipress (prazosin)
- Feldene (piroxicam)
- Glucotrol (glipizide)
- Unasyn (ampicillin sulbactam)
- Procardia XL (nifedipine)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
- Zithromax (azithromycin)
- Norvasc (amlodipine)
- Viagra (sildenafil)
- Lyrica (pregabalin)
- Sutent (sunitib)
- Protonix (pantoprazole)
Currently, Pfizer manufactures hundreds of products in both branded and generic versions and has 112 product candidates in development in various stages of research trials.
Pfizer has faced thousands of lawsuits filed for medical injuries caused by some of its most popular drugs. It has also set a record for the largest fine paid for a health care fraud lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Pfizer paid $2.3 billion in fines, penalties, and settlement for illegal marketing claims and allegations of fraud for the promotion and sales of arthritis medication Bextra (valdecoxib). The company has also faced legal challenges over other products including transplant drug Rapamune, neurology drugs Geodon and Lyrica, Shiley heart valves, Celebrex, and Trovafloxacin.
Some of the Pfizer lawsuits have been dismissed, others have been settled, and still others remain in court systems. Some of the most notable lawsuits have included:
As part of a larger group of proton pump inhibitor lawsuits, Pfizer faced a number of Protonix lawsuits after it acquired drug company Wyeth who had been accused of marketing the drug for unapproved uses. In 2013, Pfizer agreed to pay $55 million to settle illegal marketing claims and in 2016, paid $784 million for accusations that Wyeth had overcharged Medicaid for Protonix. The company may still be facing PPI lawsuits for kidney injuries caused by Protonix.
An estimated 13,000 Prempro lawsuits were filed against Pfizer acquisition, Wyeth by women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The lawsuits were largely settled by 2012 for about $1.2 billion.
Pfizer faced about 3,000 Chantix lawsuits filed by people who claimed they experienced suicidal thoughts and psychiatric disorders after using Chantix for smoking cessation. Pfizer set aside about $288 million and at least some of the cases were settled. A new lawsuit against Pfizer was filed in September for reported carcinogenic chemical contamination of Chantix and the generic form of Chantix. A similar case had already been dismissed in at least two other district courts.
Thousands of medical injury lawsuits have been filed against multiple pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, over claims that testosterone replacement therapy was marketed for unapproved disorder “Low-T” and may have resulted in serious heart damage in men who did not need the medication. Other drug companies have paid $ billions to settle their cases, however many of the Pfizer Depo-testosterone lawsuits were dismissed.
About 700 federal and hundreds of state Zoloft drug injury lawsuits were filed against Pfizer, claiming the company actively promoted the use of the SSRI antidepressant, Zoloft to pregnant women despite knowledge of birth defect risks from their research. These cases have been dismissed by several courts over conclusions that there was not enough evidence to prove a link between birth defects and Zoloft use. Concerns have continued to be raised, particularly with women who claim their children developed Autism and other developmental disorders. Some of these families may still be considering lawsuits against Pfizer.
Effexor was also an antidepressant medication originally produced by Wyeth which has also been the cause of multiple lawsuits. Wyeth had been accused of misleading advertising claims by the FDA in 2007 and in 2012, people began filing drug injury lawsuits. People who filed Effexor lawsuits claimed that it caused birth defects, and separately, suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In September 2015, most Effexor lawsuits were dismissed but some of the plaintiffs may have been eligible to refile. Other lawsuits have been filed and largely dismissed for medications including blood thinner Eliquis and cholesterol medication Lipitor.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.