Pfizer to expand genetic testing, other areas of animal health business to combat rivals

By Linda A. Johnson, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pfizer seeking to expand animal health business

NEW YORK — Pfizer Inc., the world’s biggest seller of drugs for people, now is looking to make more bucks from Fido, Fifi and farm animals.

The company is developing drugs for new animal diseases, pushing into the growing market for pet medicine in emerging markets and working with livestock farmers to use its genetic tests to reduce costs and produce top-quality meat.

Despite that strategy, Pfizer will be bumped from its position as the top animal health company by revenue when a planned joint venture of rivals gets approved by regulators, probably early next year. Merck & Co. and Sanofi-Aventis SA are combining their animal health businesses into what will be called Merial-Intervet. It is expected to initially have about 28 percent of the $19 billion-a-year global animal health market.

Pfizer’s president of animal health, Juan Ramon Alaix, is unfazed, saying his unit will remain first in innovation, with a $300 million research budget, and first in service to veterinarians and farmers.

“We have the portfolio to become the provider of preference,” he told reporters at a meeting Thursday.

Pfizer beefed up its animal health product line with last October’s $68 billion purchase of drugmaker Wyeth, including its Fort Dodge veterinary medicine business. That should boost Pfizer to about a 20 percent share of the market.

Last year, its animal health business had $2.8 billion in sales. This year, sales hit $1.7 billion in the first six months.

The global market is expected to continue growing at 4 percent to 6 percent annually for the next few years, fueled by trends such as a growing elderly population wanting pets and the middle class in emerging markets eating more meat.

Pfizer, aiming to grow more quickly, has been snapping up niche animal health businesses. One makes a vaccine for laying chickens — injected while they’re still incubating eggs — against various diseases. Another sells vaccines to prevent infections in farmed fish such as salmon and tilapia, which are forced through narrow channels where they can be stopped one by one for a shot.

It’s also developed the drug Palladia, the first cancer medicine specifically for dogs, and it has a new partnership with the American Kennel Club to research dog diseases and treatments.

A key growth area will be using genetic tests to help farmers make more money.

“It’s a very important space for the future,” Ramon said. “It’s very exciting, very novel.”

Already, Pfizer is the top provider of genetic testing services for cattle, mainly in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and it also offers the service for sheep in the latter two countries.

Farmers provide a hair or blood sample from an animal. Pfizer lab workers then look for genetic signs that a particular animal will produce tender or nicely marbled meat, that it will be resistant to livestock diseases, that it will grow quickly on a particular diet or that it will be especially fertile.

Besides using the information to decide which animals to breed, testing can help farmers reduce their expenses by using the most cost-effective feed and using fewer vaccines and antibiotics in disease-resistant animals. In addition, farmers producing the choicest beef cuts could command higher prices.

Ramon said testing is 80 percent accurate and improving.

Pfizer plans to expand the service to Europe, Asia and Latin America. It also aims to make genetic tests that would let people learn whether newly acquired pets are susceptible to health problems so owners can take preventive steps.

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