Medically reviewed by Thomas Fischer (Pharmacist). This article was written according to medical standards. More Info

Medically reviewed by Thomas Fischer (Pharmacist)More Info

Pfizer is a global pharmaceutical company with a rich 170-plus year history. Founded in Brooklyn, New York, this pharmaceutical giant is the largest of its kind, and often rated as the #1 in the industry.

This article will explore the success stories of Pfizer. The specific focus will be on Viagra, one of their most significant achievements to date.

The Story of Pfizer

Founded by two German immigrant cousins, Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart, Pfizer started as a chemical company. Pfizer’s first product was an anti-parasitic drug called santonin, flavored with toffee. Santonin combined the skills of Charles, the chemist, with that of his cousin Erhart, a confectioner. This successful blend of making medicine taste ‘good’ was a pattern that Pfizer would often repeat.

During the Civil War in the mid-1800s, Pfizer manufactured disinfectant products, like iodine. They also made painkillers like morphine, to meet the needs of the time. Pfizer made citric acid, their best selling product in the late 1800s. Citric Acid sales grew popular as an ingredient used by emerging soft drink brands of the time, Coca-Cola™ and Pepsi-Cola™. 

Pfizer

Pfizer is also known for pioneering penicillin in the early 1900s. Pfizer being a massive supplier during the WWII period. In 1936 Pfizer’s innovations led to the discovery of a fermentation free way to produce vitamin C and later vitamin B2 and B12. 

Terramycin followed penicillin in 1950. The first antibiotic marketed via their medical sales representative or ‘reps’ force. 

In 1951 Pfizer went international and expanded to nine countries. This initial modest global expansion has grown Pfizer into one of the world’s biggest research-based biopharmaceuticals. Today this Fortune 500 company employs hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. 

Pfizer’s trajectory of success continued into the 60s and 70s. It introduced new drugs such as anti-inflammatories, medication for diabetics, and anti-hypertensive treatments. 

In 1996, Pfizer struck medicinal ‘gold’ with Viagra, dubbed ‘the little blue pill.’ Viagra was patented and launched to market in 1998 after approval by the FDA (s. also What Is Viagra? What Do Viagra Pills Look Like?). That paved the way to treat the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. The discovery of this sexual enhancer ‘hit’ was not intentional and happened so to say by chance. More about that later in this article.

The Pfizer of today is developing and manufacturing a global portfolio of healthcare products. The range includes effective medicine and vaccines. It has several divisions. These include primary and specialty care, oncology, and a wide range of established products. 

Pfizer supports emerging markets and consumer healthcare through dedicated divisions. Other areas of specialty focus on nutrition and animal health. The latter already established in 1952. 

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Pfizer’s Best-known Drugs

The pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, has a diversified portfolio across several treatment areas. Besides the divisions previously mentioned, Pfizer has other specialty drugs. It also does ongoing research on rare diseases, neurosciences, and immunology.

Besides Viagra, the Pfizer’s best-known medications include:

Advil

Advil is ibuprofen or an anti-inflammatory drug used to relieve pain. Advil has been in production for over 30 years and classified as a Pfizer top consumer product. It is available as an over the counter (OTC) medication. 

Chantix

Chantix is a prescription-only medication. This is a treatment for nicotine addiction, used by people who want to stop smoking. 

Chantix Starting Box

Eliquis

Eliquis is a prescription-only medication used in the treatment of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots formed in the leg veins). It is also used for pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs). 

It is sometimes prescribed to help reduce the risk of a stroke or blood clots forming for those suffering from atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). 

Enbrel

Enbrel is a prescription-only medication to treat moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. It is also used to manage the symptoms of several other chronic diseases, with inflammatory conditions, such as plaque psoriasis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Lipitor

Lipitor, Pfizer’s cholesterol-lowering drugs, is considered to be the best-selling drug of all time and is as famous as Viagra. Lipitor is backed by 20-plus years of clinical experience and is a prescription-only medication to control LDL or so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Lyrica

Lyrica is a neuroscience prescription-only medicine used to treat fibromyalgia or extensive muscle pain and inflammation. It is often prescribed to treat diabetic nerve pain or spinal cord injuries. Lyrica can also manage the partial-onset of seizures related to epilepsy.

LYRICA

Prevnar13

Prevnar13 is a vaccine against the bacteria associated with pneumonia and certain strains of meningitis.

Viagra

The famous “little blue pill” was the first medication invented to help men with erectile dysfunction (see also “What Is Viagra? Viagra Definition“). See more in the special section below. 

Viagra Definition

The Expansion of Pfizer and its Subsidiaries

Pfizer is considered to be the biggest pharmaceutical company in 2019, worth US $53.7 billion. Pfizer has several well-known subsidiaries. This list includes the more recent acquisitions of the last five years.

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The Successful March of Viagra

Viagra, also known as ‘the little blue potency pill’ was discovered ‘by chance.’ In the early 1990s, Pfizer developed sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient in Viagra. It was designed to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) and chest pains (angina pectoris) caused by heart disease. 

During the heart clinical trials, it was discovered that one of the ‘side effects’ of the drug tested was inducing erections rather than increased blood flow to the heart only. 

Rumour has it that ‘a very observant nurse’ played a part. She reported that men taking part in the heart trials were lying on their stomachs during check-ups. Upon closer inspection, it appeared they were ’embarrassed’ by the unexpected erections and trying to hide it.

During sexual stimulation, an enzyme in the body called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) activates and assists nitric oxide in the body to relax the muscle layers of the penis, allowing blood to flow, creating an erection.

In some people, another protein called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), can attack cGMP limiting its action. The result is erectile dysfunction (ED). It turns out that Sildenafil is a PDE-5 inhibitor. It stops PDE5 from attacking the cGMP, thus allowing blood to flow and an erection to form. 

For men without PDE5 issues, during the clinical trials, the medication created unwanted and unexpected erections. Pfizer patented Viagra in 1996 and created the first oral medication to treat the symptoms of ED. In 1998 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Viagra as a prescription-only medication.

At the time of Viagra’s launch, the FDA also lifted some restrictions on the advertising and marketing of medication to consumers. Viagra was one of the first to benefit from these new campaigns to educate consumers on ED. 

FDA

Men were encouraged to seek professional advice from a doctor and not be embarrassed about their condition, as millions of other men suffer from it too. Viagra was soon marketed as a lifestyle drug, rather than a medication to treat impotence.

Viagra for Treatment of Raynaud's

Viagra is also prescribed to treat a condition called Raynaud’s. This is a condition that affects fingers or toes where the blood vessels have narrowed concerning certain conditions. Viagra can restore blood flow. 

A lot has been written about Viagra over the years. Apart from medical literature and reviews, there are dedicated books. “The Rise of Viagra” was published in 2004. This Book by Meika Loe was the first book of its kind to detail the history and ‘wonder’ of Viagra. It describes the impact it had on the ‘sexual revolution’ in America. 

Viagra reached record sales of close to $2 billion in 2008. Over the last 20 years, Viagra sales have generated billions per year for Pfizer. Up until recently, Viagra was deemed to be the most prescribed drug in the US. 

This has changed in the last few years, with Viagra losing some of its 92% market share held in 2000, to approximately 50%. This is due to the development of generic alternatives and competitors such as Cialis and Levitra.

2020 is going to have a giant impact on Viagra sales. This year, the final patents on the medication will expire. This will open the doors for even more companies to produce and distribute generic versions. This will most definitely impact Pfizer’s market share.

References:
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  2. Matthew Karnitschnig, & Jonathan D. Rockoff. (2009, January 23). Pfizer in Talks to Buy Wyeth. In: Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), p. A.1. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from Wall Street Journal. (Document ID: 1631280041).
  3. Cynthia Koons and Michelle Cortez: Pfizer and Allergan to Combine With Joint Value of $160 Billion. In: Bloomberg.com. URL: www.bloomberg.com.
  4. Annual Review 2007 | Pfizer: the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. In: Pfizer.com. October 9, 2009. URL: www.pfizer.com.
  5. Pfizer Leadership and Structure. In: Pfizer.com. URL: www.pfizer.com.