Pfizer eyes partnerships, acquisitions in genericsPfizer, the world's biggest drugmaker, is seeking deals with generic pharmaceutical manufacturers to increase sales of medicines that have lost patent protection.

Pfizer plans to expand the number of generic drugs it sells through internal growth, licensing agreements and acquisitions, David Simmons, president of Pfizer's established products unit, said today at the Goldman Sachs Healthcare Conference in New York. Pfizer is among major pharmaceutical makers hunting for deals with generic makers preparing to introduce cheaper drug copies as $US10 billion worth of medicines lose patent coverage this year.

The drugmaker is trying to lessen its dependence on brand- name prescription medicines as it braces for the end of patent protection on its top-selling medicine, the Lipitor cholesterol pill, with $US12.4 billion in sales last year. Since March, Pfizer has bought the rights to sell more than 150 generic pills and injections from two Indian drugmakers, Aurobindo Pharma and Claris Lifesciences.

"This off-patent drug market is very big, growing fast and has margins better than anyone thought," said Simmons. "We are committed to making this business unit grow."

Daiichi Sankyo of Tokyo paid the equivalent of about $US5 billion for Ranbaxy Laboratories of India in October and London-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc expanded an agreement last month with South African generic-drug maker Aspen Pharmacare.

Abbott Comments

Miles White, chief executive officer at Abbott Laboratories, said today at the Goldman conference that he also is interested in pursuing generic drugs, especially "more-branded generic" medicines in emerging markets.

While White said his acquisition strategy favors purchases of non-pharmaceutical companies, he told investors, "don't be surprised if we do something in pharma."

Until this year, Pfizer had only sold generic copies of its own medicines through its Greenstone unit. Pfizer's generics sales declined 10 per cent this year. It plans to increase sales in that sector by 2011, the company said.

Pfizer doesn't need to make an acquisition to grow the division, though it hasn't ruled out the option, Simmons said. Pfizer agreed in January to buy rival drugmaker Wyeth in a deal valued at $US63.8 billion.

About a quarter of Pfizer's 2008 sales came from 300 products that have lost patent protection. Pfizer said in March it plans to add more than 200 pills and 60 injections to its generic business.