Pfizer’s outlook disappoints as it struggles with patent expirations

January 27, 2015, 5:19 PM UTC

Pfizer, the No. 1 U.S. drugmaker, reported fourth-quarter earnings Tuesday that exceeded analysts’ estimates for both profit and sales. Despite the earnings beat, Pfizer is facing some tough challenges. There’s little clarity on how the company plans to overcome the loss of patent protection on some top drugs, and it’s struggling to find top-line growth.

Here are some key things to know about the drugmaker’s results.

What you need to know: Pfizer’s (PFE) revenues were higher than expected, but were still down 3% year-over-year. That’s primarily due to the loss of exclusivity on some of its top products, including Celebrex and Lipitor.

The New York City-based company also forecast a decline in its full-year sales, anticipating 2015 sales will be between $44.5 billion and $46.5 billion, down from $49.6 billion in 2014. Much of the decline is due to the effect of expired patent protections, which are expected to cost the company $3.5 billion this year.

To compound Pfizer’s woes, the dollar’s rise on international currency markets is also hindering the company’s bottom line. A strengthening weighs on Pfizer’s overseas sales, which account for nearly 60% of its total revenues. Unfavorable foreign-exchange rates are expected to reduce 2015 revenues by $2.8 billion.

Pfizer has been working on a series of new products that could replace diminishing sales of no-longer-patent-protected medicines. However, the drugmaker has yet to come up with a blockbuster to replace declining sales of Lipitor and Celebrex, which fell 6% and 31%, respectively, worldwide last year.

The company is set to start “over 20 registrational studies during the coming four years with candidates that are based upon strong science and target indications that have significant unmet need,” said CEO Ian Read. Pfizer’s breast cancer drug Ibrance has been granted “priority review” status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Trumenba, a meningitis B vaccine, received FDA approval in October.

The big number: Sales hit $13.12 billion in the fourth quarter, surpassing analysts’ estimates of $12.9 billion, according to Thompson Reuters data. Net income was down 52% year-over-year to $1.23 billion, or 19 cents a share. Profits, adjusted for one-time items, were 54 cents a share, beating analysts’ expectations by 1 cent.

What you might have missed: Pfizer is at a crucial moment. The company is struggling to find top-line growth as sales continue to trend downward given the loss of patent rights on profit-driving drugs. The company has indicated that it may either pursue a large deal, or break itself up — or some combination of the two.

Last year Pfizer tried to push through a $118 billion acquisition of U.K.-based Astrazeneca (AZN), which would have given Pfizer a strong oncology pipeline and allowed the company to move its headquarters to the U.K. and take advantage of a much lower corporate tax rate.

After the deal fell apart, Pfizer continued to look for potential targets, eyeing Dublin-based Actavis (ACT) and reportedly reaching out to Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA). No big deal has come through as of yet, leaving Pfizer battling to come up with blockbuster drugs to replace its patent-expired offerings.

Pfizer’s Trumenba vaccine received FDA approval in October. The article incorrectly stated that Trumenba was still under priority review.