Monday, October 22, 2007

Pfizer the Headless Chicken!

Pfizer Inc. Chief Executive Jeffrey Kindler's decision to scrap an unpopular drug bucked an unspoken industry rule, according to a Wall Street Journal article ("Pfizer Breaks With Norm by Scrapping Drug"). Namely, products can linger on life support as long as they pose no safety problems.

The article makes a couple of references to Kindler's previous experience as a fast-food (specifically chicken) executive:

"This is a guy who came in from the fast-food business selling chicken, where decisions are made in seconds, and now he's in the pharmaceutical industry with a complex diabetes product that affects patients over decades," says Andrew Forman, managing director of health care at investment firm W.R. Hambrecht.

And this: "...the CEO's public comments indicate Mr. Kindler aims to bring something new to the drug industry: A fast-food-like focus on what the market wants."

All this made me recall the story of Mike the famous headless chicken. Here's an excerpt from the wikipedia entry:
Mike the Headless Chicken (April 1945 – March 1947; pictured above) was a Wyandotte rooster (cockerel) that lived for 18 months after its head had been cut off.

On Monday September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, had his mother-in-law around for supper and was sent out to the yard by his wife to bring back a chicken. Olsen failed to completely decapitate the five-and-a-half month old bird named Mike. The axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.

On the first night after the decapitation Mike slept with it under his wing; it was this that convinced Olsen to reprieve Mike from the cooking pot.

Despite Olsen's botched handiwork, Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he even attempted to preen and crow, although he could do neither. After the bird did not die, a surprised Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for Mike, feeding him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper; he was also fed small grains of corn. Mike occasionally choked on his own mucus, which the Olsen family would clear using a syringe.

When used to his new and unusual center of mass Mike could easily get himself to the highest perches without falling. His crowing, though, was less impressive and consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat, leaving him unable to crow at dawn. Mike also spent his time preening and attempting to peck for food with his neck.

Being headless did not keep Mike from putting on weight; at the time of his beheading he weighed two and a half pounds, but at the time of his death this had increased to nearly eight.

n March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back home from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. As the Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, they were unable to save Mike. Lloyd Olsen claimed that he had sold the bird off, resulting in stories of Mike still touring the country as late as 1949.
There's a parable here somewhere. I think it's this: Pfizer, like Mike, now may be running around with its head cut off! It can live for a while and even gain weight without another blockbuster on the horizon, but sooner or later the pot awaits!

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