The headquarters of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals comprises 1.8 million square feet of office and lab space on a campus outside Philadelphia. Shown here (left to right) are: Robert Ruffolo, Jr.; Frank Walsh; Bernard Poussot; Gary Stiles, MD; and Joseph Mahady.
People can’t write a sentence about Wyeth without starting with 'diet drug,'" moans Joseph Mahady, president of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' North American and global businesses. Yet he knows why the diet "cocktail" known as fen-phen—one part Pondimin (fenfluramine) or Redux (dexfenfluramine) and one part generic phentermine—gets attention: "Where else have you seen a $16 billion block taken from a company?" That's the amount drained from Wyeth during the last five years by fen-phen litigation—the costliest product liability tort ever to hit a single pharma. (See "Balloon Mortgage.") What's more, the ongoing lawsuits have raised a lingering cloud of uncertainty and suspicion that amplifies Wyeth's smallest mishap and obscures its genuine achievements.
Turning Heads Wyeth wants to be "one of the most innovative companies in the industry," says Bernard Poussot, president of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Chutzpah might not be the word this soft-spoken Frenchman would choose to describe its aspirations, but only a decade ago, Wyeth "made pots and pans, shoe polish, Jiffy Pop—a great company store—but was nobody's idea of a real research company," Mahady admits.
Over the years, it has divested its crop protection and home foods businesses, exited the generic market, and broadened its research capabilities. "We don't do just small molecules," says Frank Walsh, senior vice-president and head of discovery. "We do biopharmaceuticals, and in another division, vaccines." Wyeth still makes consumer products and has a veterinary unit, Fort Dodge Animal Health. But the pharmaceutical division accounts for 75 percent of sales.
The ninth largest pharma with $12.6 billion in 2003 pharmaceutical sales, Wyeth is often rumored to be shopping or targeted for acquisition. But, Poussot says, "size is not really an obsession for us."