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Pfizer Puts Lipitor Site Up For Sale as Patent Expiration Causes Over-Capacity

By Dan Stanton+

16-May-2013

Lower sales of off-patent former blockbuster Lipitor have prompted Pfizer to try and sell off its third Irish API plant in as many years. 

The pharma giant reported a 55% drop in year-to-year sales of its anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, and as part of an ongoing the review of Pfizer’s manufacturing network - which has seen the company sell 13 sites worldwide in the last few years – announced yesterday it was to divest its Little Island facility in Cork, Ireland.

Karen O’Keeffe, a spokesperson for Pfizer, told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that the decision to sell the plant was due to “over-capacity within manufacturing globally,” as a number of key products have come off patent and global demand has declined.

When Lipitor lost its US patent in November 2011, the immediate decline in sales led to 177 jobs lost between the two Cork sites [Little Island and Ringaskiddy] as a direct response”, according to O’Keeffe.

Little Island was acquired as part of Warner Lambert’s capacity expansion of its Lipitor manufacturing in 1997. Following the company’s merger with Pfizer in 2001, all intermediates and final API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) for the cholesterol-lowering drug were supplied from the facility.

Pfizer was able to report annual sales of over $12bn in the mid-2000s from the drug, yet since Lipitor’s patent expired the company has been forced to reassess its strategy in order to compete with generics, such as the one made by Ranbaxy and Teva .

Operations at the site – which manufactures APIs for a number of new cancer drugs as well as Lipitor – will move to the nearby Ringaskiddy site during 2014 as Pfizer consolidates its operations in Cork.

As for the remaining 136 employees at the facility, it was confirmed their jobs will not be transferred and they will face redundancy unless a buyer can be found.

There is some hope of a sale as Pfizer has recently divested two sites in Ireland: Shanbally (also in Cork) to Biomarin and Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin) to Amgen . However, the company was forced to exit a fourth Cork facility last year after failing for a number of years to find a buyer.

“The Loughbeg site was a single product tableting site and very hard to find a buyer for” said O’Keeffe, and though she admitted there would be difficulties selling Little Island, she remained positive due to it being both award winning and more adaptable for any potential buyer.

Pfizer & Ireland

In response to the news, Pfizer’s manufacturing issues were echoed by Ireland’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) whose CEO Barry O’Leary said the Irish pharmaceutical industry faced “a number of global challenges including the fallout from patent expiry and over-capacity.”

However, with over 3,000 people employed at six sites, O’Leary stated “Pfizer remains one of the most significant FDI employers in Ireland” and the IDA would be working with them to find a buyer for the plant.

Just two months ago another Irish API facility was put up for sale by MSD (known as Merck & Co. in North America), who also hinted at patent expirations as a factor for selling its Wicklow site at a cost of 280 jobs.

However, the IDA remained upbeat about future investment in Ireland, highlighting a number of recent investments on top of Pfizer’s two divestitures - Mylan in Dublin, Abbott in Sligo, Allergan in Westport, Eli Lilly in Cork and Sanofi in Waterford – worth approximately $1.5bn.

“Several other pharmaceutical projects are currently being pursued by IDA Ireland,” said O’Leary. “We are working with leading companies and other stakeholders to ensure that Ireland is in a strong position to meet the challenges facing the sector.”

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