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Pharma’s Holiday Shopping Spree

This morning biopharma P & A reached critical mass. In a rare, holiday-week confluence, four major pharmaceutical companies announced partnership deals and one announced a nearly $2-billion acquisition. All of the partnerships are on drugs that are still in the testing stage. If they were to all come to fruition, which in the risky business of drug development is highly unlikely, the new partnerships could collectively be worth billions of dollars over time.

In case you didn’t see the headlines, here’s a quick rundown of the Monday morning madness: Sanofi-Aventis is buying drugstore products company Chattem for $1.9 billion. Generic drug giant Teva is partnering with OncoGenex on an experimental prostate cancer drug. GlaxoSmithKline is hooking up with Seattle Genetics. Eli Lilly is gaining Incyte pipeline products and Pfizer’s doing a stem cell deal with microcap Athersys.

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PFE’s partnership with ATHX is lunch money, but anecdotally the world’s biggest drug company does seem to be spending some major coin lately on direct-to-consumer advertising and direct-to-doctor marketing. Maybe it’s just the shows I’m watching, but I’ve noticed a pickup in Pfizer drug commercials lately. At the recent American Heart Association annual meeting Pfizer underwrote the shuttle service to get attendees to and from the Orlando convention center and ads for its cholesterol drug Lipitor were on a bunch of plastic, credit-card style hotel room keys.

And in last Friday’s front section of “The New York Times” Pfizer had two full-page ads.

One for Lipitor and one that I’d never seen before. It’s the latest in a series in the drugmaker’s new image campaign launched in the wake of the Wyeth acquisition. One of the potentially most valuable assets Pfizer bought was Wyeth’s Alzheimer’s drug pipeline. Biopharma companies are usually pretty wary of openly touting their pipelines outside of the investment and scientific communities. That’s because they don’t want to tip their hand to competitors and most stuff ends up not working or being unsafe.

alzheimers1_200.jpg
Source: New York Times

So, I was a bit surprised to see the big PFE NYT ad with the header, “WORKING ON 14 PROMISING TREATMENTS FOR ALZHEIMER’S.” (The caps are Pfizer’s.)

The text goes on to say, “Hope is in the pipeline. Today, Pfizer has more potential treatments in development than any other company, giving us a real opportunity to make one of the most feared diseases a thing of the past.”

Even using the word pipeline in a DTC ad is unusual.

Does the average Joe really understand the concept of a drug development pipeline?

In recent years, as they have faced increased scrutiny about the strength of their science and heightened concerns about big brand-name drugs going generic the major pharmaceuticals companies have become a little more transparent by posting their drug pipelines on their websites and taking deeper dives at investment/analyst meetings. But the idea of actually promoting a pipeline to the public is a new one.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman