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Pfizer's Viagra Shows Signs of Flagging: Sales Down 6%

Pfizer's Viagra recorded a 6 percent sales decline, to $466 million worldwide. It wasn't just foreign currency headwinds: The decline was 14 percent in international sales and 1 percent in the U.S. Until now, Viagra has been an almost unstoppable growth machine for Pfizer. The company regularly put the price up -- sometimes twice a year -- and netted more dollars per quarter as a result.

So the decline begs a question: Has Viagra completely tapped out its market, or has it lost market share to either Eli Lilly's Cialis (up 16 percent to $149.4 million in Q2) or Bayer's Levitra (anemic growth at best)?

Two factors complicate the issue. The first is that although Viagra is down, Revatio -- Pfizer's pulmonary arterial hypertension drug which is made of the same thing as Viagra -- saw sales rise 18 percent to $111 million. Second, Viagra goes generic in the next few years and Chinese manufacturers are already flooding the market with illegal generic versions.

I recently asked Pfizer what their plans were for the generic Viagra challenge: Keep marketing the "real thing" or license it? The company demurred, and gave this statement:

"We will not comment on future plans for Viagra. Pfizer benefits from having options when our medicines go off-patent. We currently have a thriving generics business, and also will have a consumer health business at such time as we satisfy the closing conditions and acquire Wyeth. As with all our medicines, we continually explore options for patients to have access to them."
It's tempting to dissect that statement for a subtext. Why did Pfizer mention its generics business in the same breath as its consumer segment? Could it be that Pfizer is hoping to persude the FDA to give it some kind of behind-the-counter status -- such as in the U.K. -- where patients can buy it without prescription as long as the pharmacist assures him/herself that the patient isn't on nitrates for blood pressure (mixing Viagra with nitrates can be fatal).