Wyeth shareholders OK Pfizer's purchase

Posted: July 21, 2009

It took just a few minutes for the vast majority of Wyeth shareholders to say goodbye to the 83-year-old pharmaceutical giant at the company's last annual meeting yesterday.

About 98 percent of Wyeth shareholders voted to approve the company's $68 billion acquisition by New York-based Pfizer.

Wyeth is based in Madison, N.J., but employs about 5,000 people at operations in Collegeville and Malvern.

The deal will solidify Pfizer's position as the top-selling drugmaker in the world and help it compensate for billions of dollars in revenue it likely will lose when its cholesterol fighter Lipitor loses its patent in 2011.

"Pfizer, as you know, aggressively pursued us over seven months," Wyeth's chief executive, Bernard Poussot, told shareholders, "because it recognized that it could, in one single transaction, gain entire businesses and capabilities that it currently lacks."

Poussot pointed to Wyeth drugs such as Enbrel, for rheumatoid arthritis, that have given the company an edge. Enbrel is a biologic drug, which means it is grown in living cells. Biologic drugs are much more challenging to develop than traditional pharmaceutical pills, one reason the deal was attractive to Pfizer.

In addition to Enbrel, the combination adds Wyeth's blockbuster children's vaccine Prevnar to Pfizer staples such as the impotence pill Viagra and Lipitor, the world's best-selling drug, with about $12.5 billion a year in revenue.

Wyeth's shareholders cast their votes at their annual meeting at a hotel near company headquarters in Madison, although most votes were cast in advance, many by retirement funds and other large institutional investors.

"I have mixed feelings" about the deal, Poussot said at the northern New Jersey hotel where the meeting was held; it was also available on a Webcast.

Poussot, who will leave once the acquisition is complete, explained that he had spent years at Wyeth, building up a strong executive team and focusing the company on scientific research.

The deal, announced Jan. 26, still needs some regulatory approvals.

The companies are promising $4 billion in budget cuts, including 20,000 fewer jobs. Wyeth employs 47,000 people worldwide; Pfizer, 83,400.

Wyeth shares were trading early yesterday afternoon at $46.07, up 10 cents; Prizer shares were priced at $15, up 4 cents.

Contact staff writer Miriam Hill

at 215-854-5520 or hillmb@phillynews.com.

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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