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Accidental Blockbusters - Pfizer Inc. (PFE)'s Viagra Made It Big Through Serendipity, Will Other Drugs?


10/5/2012 7:09:36 AM

When they synthesized compound UK-92,480 in 1989 at Pfizer’s research facility in Sandwich, Kent, Peter Dunn and Albert Wood envisioned a new drug that could fight angina as well as hypertension. Phase I trials, however, told a different story: The compound did little to fight chest pains, let alone high blood pressure—but did wonders for men seeking to maintain their erections. The rest is history: Pfizer repositioned its compound, sildenafil (Viagra™), as an erectile dysfunction drug, and brought it to market in 1998, when it became a blockbuster thanks to its higher-than-usual profile for a new drug—$102 million in ads (some featuring ex-Senator Bob Dole) accounting for 14% of the pharma giant’s total marketing budget that year—and millions of dollars more in free publicity as the punchline to late-night comedians’ jokes. In its first week after launch, 4.3 million prescriptions were written for Viagra, which last year generated nearly $2 billion in worldwide sales for Pfizer. Sales were up 3% from 2010—no small rise in a year where Pfizer’s total revenues from biopharmaceutical products dipped 1%.


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