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Pfizer is one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. Based in the United States, it manufactures some of the most widely used prescription drugs in the world including Viagra.

Background and objectives

Pfizer was founded in 1849. It is in terms of revenue the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. In 2004 its revenues were over $50 billion. From the Pfizer website -

"Our basic role is to discover and develop medicines, help make medicines available, advance and share health information, and partner on public health programs." [1]


Market share/importance

Quoting from The Guardian in 2001, Corporate Watch report that:

There were times not long ago that drug companies were merely the size of nations. Now, after a frenzied two-year period of pharmaceutical mega-mergers, they are behemoths, which outweigh entire continents. The combined worth of the world’s top five drug companies is twice the combined GNP of all sub-Saharan Africa and their influence on the rules of world trade is many times stronger because they can bring their wealth to bear directly on the levers of western power.[2]

Quoting from ‘Pfizer..not just bigger, but better’, a message by Pfizer CEO Henry A. McKinnell, Corporate Watch continues:

Pfizer is the largest and richest pharmaceutical enterprise in the world. Fortune® named Pfizer as the fifth-best ‘wealth-creator’ in America. The company is a global leader in human pharmaceuticals, and also has a large array of consumer health care, confectionery, and animal health care products. In 2000, its revenues equalled $29,6 billion (£20,14bn), eight of Pfizer’s pharmaceutical products attained sales of at least $1 billion (£680,4 million) each. Pfizer’s main competitors are Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.
In 2001, Pfizer has budgeted approximately $5 billion (£3,402 bn) for research and development - more than any other drug company in the world. However, the company is likely to spend even more money on marketing. Extensive marketing practices (e.g. huge TV advertising campaigns) have turned some drugs, like Claritin and Viagra, into household names. According to the Financial Times (26 April 2001), ‘Pfizer has powered its way up the global ranking list to its unassailable position thanks mainly to its marketing prowess.’


The company was incorporated as Charles Pfizer & Co in the US in 1942 but the original business dates back to a partnership founded in 1849. Until the turn of the century this partnership produced only citric acid but then began to expand into other chemicals and pharmaceutical products. A phase of rapid growth began with the production of penicillin in World War II (it was Pfizer penicillin that arrived with the Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy in 1944) and the development of the company’s most famous product, the antibiotic Terramycin in 1949. Based on this strength, Pfizer grew in the 40s and 50s through horizontal integration in the US as well as through internal development.

Under the methodical directive of John Powers, head of international operations and future president and chief executive officer, Pfizer’s foreign market expanded into 100 countries and accounted for $175 million (£199 million) in sales by 1965. It would be years before any competitor came close to commanding a similar share of the foreign market. Pfizer’s 1965 worldwide sales figures of $220 million (£149,7 million) indicated that the company might possibly be the largest pharmaceutical manufacturer in the US. By 1980 Pfizer was one of the two US companies among the top ten pharmaceutical companies in Europe, and the largest foreign health care and agricultural product manufacturer in Asia. Powers guided the company in a new direction with an emphasis on research and development.

By 1989, Pfizer operated in more than 140 countries. Pfizer entered the 90s facing controversy about heart valves produced by Shiley, a Pfizer subsidiary. In 1990, 38 fractures of implanted valves were reported (see also crime section). Pfizer became a household name in the late 90s with its development of the break-through male impotence drug Viagra, which became the world’s fastest-selling pharmaceutical product (until overtaken by another Pfizer brand).

It appears Viagra also had an effect on the company’s senior executives; in 1999 they began forcing their intentions on rival Warner-Lambert, finally harassing the smaller company into a shotgun marriage in the first ever-hostile take-over in the pharma sector. This take-over turned Pfizer into the largest and richest pharmaceutical enterprise in the world.

Pfizer has worked its way up the global ranking list by way of internal growth and development, acquisitions, the licensing of products from competitors (Pfizer generously borrowed research from its competitors and released variants of these drugs. While all companies participated in this process of ‘molecular manipulation’, whereby a slight variance is produced in a given molecule to develop greater potency and decreased side effects in a drug, Pfizer was particularly adept at developing these drugs and aggressively seizing a share of the market), research & development, and by way of comprehensive marketing efforts.

Pfizer’s successful marketing efforts impinged on other companies in the pharma sector. (Pfizer’s modern market campaigns broke tradition in the pharma industry. Pfizer’s Terramycin campaign turned the company –a relative newcomer to the industry—into the largest advertiser in the American Medical Association’s journal. Some companies did not appreciate Pfizer’s ‘hard sell’ tactics and attacked Pfizer. However, after Pfizer’s campaign proved to be highly effective, other companies took a similar lead) It is manifested in the "arms race" of escalating numbers of sales representatives, particularly in the US; the huge pre-launch marketing budgets when companies try to make as big a splash as possible; and aggressive TV advertising campaigns in which drugs are seemingly being treated and presented to the consumer audience as any other consumer product.

Pfizer recently announced a new mission: to become the world’s ‘most valued’ company. Pfizer CEO McKinnell declared that the new mission came about because the old mission set in the 1990s (to lead the pharmaceutical industry) had been achieved. He explains: ‘Becoming most values simply means that we emerge as the company recognised as the best by patients, customers, business partners, and the communities where we live and work. It’s a long term mission focused on making Pfizer’s success a winning proposition for everyone.’[3] [4]

Bjork-Shiley heart valve

One of Pfizer's products, the Bjork-Shiley heart valve has been the subject of numerous lawsuits against the company. The heart valve was implanted in over 40,000 people between 1979 and 1986, however by the late 80's several cases of heart valve breakages began appearing. Worldwide around 600 breakages have been reported causing roughly 500 fatalities. The incident was all the more shocking as during testing in the 1970's several breakages were reported without the product ever being recalled, in fact several faulty valves were discovered by inspectors, superficially altered to make it appear they were safe and then implanted into patients. In 1994 Pfizer was found guilty of negligent practice and forced to pay around $200 million in damages over the incident. [1]

Researchers infected with "AIDS-like" virus - whistleblower lawsuit succeeds

In early 2010, in what was hailed as a major victory for workers in the biotech and nanotech fields, a former scientist with pharmaceutical firm Pfizer has been awarded $1.37 million for being fired after raising the alarm over researchers being infected with a genetically engineered "AIDS-like" virus.

Becky McClain, a molecular biologist from Deep River, Connecticut, filed a lawsuit against Pfizer in 2007, claiming she had been wrongly terminated for complaining about faulty safety equipment that allowed a "dangerous lentivirus" to infect her and some of her colleagues.

The Hartford Courant describes the virus as "similar to the one that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS." Health experts testified that the virus has affected the way McClain's body processes potassium, which they say causes McClain to suffer complete paralysis as often as a dozen times per month, the Courant reports.

McClain's lawsuit (PDF) asserted that Pfizer had interfered with her right to free speech, and that she should have been protected from retaliation by whistleblower legislation.

Pfizer challenged her assertion, claiming McClain only started complaining about safety problems once her employment was terminated, the Associated Press reports. Pfizer also claimed to have investigated McClain's claims about safety violations and found them to be untrue, according to the New London Day.

On Thursday, a jury in a US District Court in Connecticut disagreed with Pfizer, granting McClain the $1.37 million, as well as punitive damages, meaning the total amount could be much greater.

The Web site says the ruling is being "considered the first successful employee claim in the biotech and nanotech industry."

Workers' rights advocates are pointing to the McClain lawsuit as "evidence that risks caused by cutting-edge genetic manipulation have outstripped more slowly evolving government regulation of laboratories," reports the Courant.

McClain's lawsuit says she was exposed to the experimental virus repeatedly between 2002 and 2004, and when she lodged complaints about it, her supervisor said he would "falsify her future performance reviews and he told her they would be negative, and he threatened her in an aggressive fashion following the plaintiff’s repeated complaints regarding safety. He forcibly backed the plaintiff into a wall during one encounter."[5]



Former staff

Pfizer affiliations

Pfizer provided generous support for the Expert Consensus Guideline Series: Treatment of Schizophrenia 1999 an initiative aiming at establishing uniform medication guidelines for schizophrenia[7]. It is reported that this was an initiative 'supported exclusively by 6 pharmaceutical companies: Eli Lilly and Company, Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Pfizer Inc. and Zeneca Pharmaceuticals' (now known as AstraZeneca). Michael Hogan and Laurie Flynn were also involved in this initiative.

PR, Lobbying and Business Intelligence firms

Pfizer appears as a client for Rabin Strategic Partners[15] (a full-service consultancy, public relations and communications agency).

Pfizer is listed as a client for business intelligence firm Business Insights[16]

In 2008, Pfizer is listed as a client of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd[17]. They are also listed as a client of Innovex[18]

Pfizer is also listed as a member of the American Benefits Council[19] and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations[20] in 2008

The Centre for Responsive Ethics report that Pfizer 'is one of the biggest players in what is widely considered the most influential industry in Washington: pharmaceutical manufacturers'. They go on to add that 'Pfizer and other drug makers have successfully fought efforts in Congress to attach a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The industry also opposes efforts to make it easier for generic drugs to enter the market'[21].

The following agencies are reported to have been contracted to assist Pfizer in their lobbying activities in 2007[22]...

This is a total of $2,710,000 for 2007 which has been itemized. The reported expenditure total for lobbying in 2007 is $13,800,000.

Other agencies hired previous to 2007 (during the period 1999-2006) are reported as...

Acting on behalf of Pfizer subsidiary Pharmacia Corp...

Government and the Corporate Purse

Pfizer is reported to have to have contributed a total of US$11,929,052 to political parties in America between 1990-2008[23]. 73% went to the Republicans and 27% to the Democrats. Since 1999 their contributions break down as follows...

  • 1999-2000 $2,482,666 (85% Repubs, 15% Dems)
  • 2001-2002 $1,981,972 (80% Repubs, 20% Dems)
  • 2003-2004 $1,768,206 (67% Repubs, 33% Dems)
  • 2005-2006 $1,912,839 (67% Repubs, 33% Dems)
  • 2007-2008 $763,583 (50% Repubs, 50% Dems) - note:info taken early in 2008, before the end of the cycle (thus is not a final figure).

Funding for lobbying between 1999-2008 is reported to be US$54,090,000 which breaks down as follows[24]...

  • 1999 - $2,240,000
  • 2000 - $3,540,000
  • 2001 - $1,840,000
  • 2002 - $4,700,000
  • 2003 - $4,020,000
  • 2004 - $5,660,000
  • 2005 - $6,490,000
  • 2006 - $11,800,000
  • 2007 - $13,800,000 (full figures for 2007 are not yet available, thus this unlikely to be the final figure for the year)

Patient Groups

In 2006 Pfizer report that they gave funding to patient groups totalling £1,109,997.29[25]

The organisations receiving funding were...

In addition to the above patient group donations, Pfizer also financed the following organisations (December 2005 to November 2006) through its Pfizer UK Foundation [26]. The amount of grants given to all Pfizer UK Foundation projects in 2006 totalling £1,038,209:

External Links


  1. Pfizer Home Page Accessed 13th December 2007
  2. Corporate Watch Pfizer Inc Overview Accessed 13th December 2007
  3. Pfizer Pfizer’s first half year results 2001 Accessed 2006
  4. The Directory of Multinationals (1998) 'The World’s Top 500 Companies’. 5th edition, volume 2, Waterlow, Specialist Information Publishing Ltd.
  5. Daniel Tencer, Pfizer ordered to pay up over ‘AIDS-like’ virus infections, The Raw Story, 2 April 2010, acc 1 May 2010
  6. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Science Media Centre website, 2002-2013.
  7. Weibert, S. The Genesis of President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health Teenscreen Truth. Accessed 9th January 2008
  8. Incisive Health Clients, accessed 25 June 2015.
  9. PRCA Public Affairs Register: Consultancies – March to May 2013
  10. Register 1st September 2014 - 30th November 2014 APPC, accessed 28 January 2015
  11. Register 1st September 2014 - 30th November 2014 APPC, accessed 29 January 2015
  12. Register 1st September 2014 - 30th November 2014 APPC, accessed 29 January 2015
  13. Register 1st September 2014 - 30th November 2014 APPC, accessed 23 February 2015
  14. Register 1st December 2014 - 28th February 2015 APPC, accessed 8 April 2015
  15. Rabin Strategic Partners Our Clients Accessed 2nd January 2008
  16. Business Insights Patient Power: The shift towards more informed, more powerful consumers of drugs Accessed 5th February 2008
  17. AMV BBDO Clients accessed 12th February 2008
  18. Innovex Our Customers Accessed 12th February 2008
  19. American Benefits Council Memberships Accessed 26th February 2008
  20. International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Members Accessed 11th March 2008
  21. The Centre for Responsive Ethics Pfizer Accessed 11th March 2008
  22. The Centre for Responsive Ethics Lobbying-Pfizer Accessed 11th March 2008
  23. The Centre for Responsive Ethics Donor Profiles-Pfizer Accessed 11th March 2008
  24. The Centre for Responsive Ethics Lobbying-Pfizer Accessed 11th March 2008
  25. Pfizer Our Partnership With Patient Organisations Accessed 13th December 2007
  26. ibid