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Pfizer is a New-York based Big Pharma company. It’s known for its products like Advil, Viagra, Xanax and Zoloft. It was the second-largest pharmaceutical company in revenue in 2017. But the medical industry giant has had its share of legal troubles and scandal. This includes marketing fraud allegations and unapproved clinical trials.

Pfizer is a pharmaceutical company that created many well-known drugs. Pfizer brands include Advil, Bextra, Celebrex, Diflucan, Lyrica, Robitussin and Viagra.

The Big Pharma company is also the mastermind behind many popular consumer products. Some of the company’s biggest names include Chapstick and Preparation-H.

Pfizer got its start over 150 years ago. It’s come a long way, evolving from a “one-stop-shop” to a multinational corporation.

Pfizer has had many triumphs. It discovered citric acid. It mass produces penicillin and vitamin C. But for all its successes, it has also seen its fair share of lawsuits and scandal.

Consumers have accused Pfizer of selling defective products. The U.S. government has charged the company with health care fraud.

Fortune magazine named Pfizer the world’s most admired pharmaceutical company in 1997. But in 2017, a Reputation Institute report ranked Pfizer last among the top 17 drug makers for reputation.

What Is Pfizer?

Pfizer is a publicly-traded global pharmaceutical company headquartered in New York City. Its revenues reached $52.5 billion in 2017.

Pfizer makes Advil, Xanax, Depo-Provera, Neosporin, Lyrica and Dimetapp. It specializes in vaccines and cancer, heart and diabetes treatments. It also makes medicines for disorders of the endocrine (hormones) and nervous systems.

The shareholder-owned company operates in 180 countries. Its research headquarters are in Groton, Connecticut. It employs more than 96,000 people worldwide.

Pfizer manufacturers more than 350 different pharmaceuticals.

Pfizer History

German-American cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart began Pfizer in 1849. Brooklyn was Pfizer’s first home.

The company started as a manufacturer of fine chemicals. It operated out of one building. The stand-alone structure served as an office, laboratory, factory and warehouse.

As the company expanded, the headquarters moved to Manhattan in 1868. A separate warehouse opened in Chicago in 1882.

One of the company’s first successful products was Santonin, a cure for intestinal worms.

Did You Know?
Pfizer discovered citric acid. The organic acid is in Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi.

Pfizer was also known as the world’s top producer of vitamin C. People use the vitamin as a defense against scurvy and the common cold.

In 1952, Pfizer had moved into eight new international locations. It also established its Agricultural Division, later known as Animal Health.

Pfizer acquired several other companies over the years. Many of these companies made billions for Pfizer with their established research and drug development.

Warner-Lambert was one of these companies. It’s the original maker of Lipitor. Warner-Lambert merged with Pfizer in 2000.

Lipitor quickly grew to be the largest-selling pharmaceutical of any kind in history. It reached $9.6 billion in revenue in 2011.

Pfizer Products

Pfizer manufacturers and/or markets many well-known products. Studies link some of its products to serious side effects. The products prompted FDA warnings and lawsuits.

Popular Pfizer Products and Brands
Over-the-counter heartburn drug
Prevnar 13
Vaccine to prevent pneumonia
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (pain reliever)
Erectile dysfunction drug
Psychoactive medicine
SSRI antidepressant
Cholesterol medicine
Smoking cessation drug
Cox-2 inhibitor (pain reliever)
Testosterone replacement therapy drug
Auto-injector emergency allergy medicine
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (pain reliever)
Macrolide antibiotic (bacterial infections)
Anticoagulant (blood thinner)
Proton pump inhibitor acid-reducer
Hormone replacement drug therapy
SNRI antidepressant

Pfizer Lawsuits and Settlements

Pfizer faces a growing number of lawsuits in 2018 involving some of its most popular drugs. In the past, courts dismissed thousands of lawsuits against Pfizer. The company also agreed to settle cases over illegal marketing and health care fraud.

Pfizer Settlement and Fine
Pfizer set a record for the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine of any kind with $2.3 billion in 2009.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice


People are suing Pfizer over Protonix. Protonix lawsuits say Pfizer failed to warn about the risk of kidney problems. In 2013, Pfizer agreed to pay $55 million to settle criminal charges. The U.S. Department of Justice said Wyeth promoted Protonix for unapproved uses in 2000 and 2001. Pfizer acquired Wyeth in 2009.

Learn More About Protonix Lawsuits


Nearly 10,000 women filed Prempro breast cancer lawsuits against Pfizer. By 2012, Pfizer settled most of the claims for more than $1 billion.


About 3,000 people filed Chantix lawsuits against Pfizer. They claimed Chantix caused suicidal thoughts and severe psychological disorders. In 2013, the company set aside about $288 million to resolve these cases. One case settled for an undisclosed amount just before trial in 2012.


More than 6,000 testosterone therapy lawsuits were pending in May 2018. The lawsuits say testosterone products caused strokes, blood clots and heart attacks.

Learn More About Testosterone Lawsuits


A federal panel closed the consolidated Effexor litigation in 2013. Lawsuits claimed birth defects.


A judge dismissed Zoloft cases in 2016. Lawsuits included similar claims to Effexor XR. The judge did not disagree that Zoloft caused birth defects. But the judge concluded there was insufficient evidence to definitively link the two.


A judge dismissed a group of federal Eliquis cases in 2017. Injured patients continue to file severe bleeding claims in Delaware state court.


A judge dismissed Lipitor lawsuits in 2017. Women who took the drug filed lawsuits after developing Type 2 diabetes. There is currently an appeal pending.

Pfizer Drug Recalls

Pfizer has had to recall some of its popular products due to quality issues and poor packaging. Effexor XR and Prempro are two products affected by recalls.


In 2013, Pfizer announced it was recalling five lots of Prempro. Prempro is a hormone replacement therapy drug. Routine testing revealed the strength of the drug was low.

Effexor XR

In 2014, Pfizer recalled two lots of its antidepressant drug Effexor XR. Tikosyn was discovered in an Effexor XR bottle. Tikosyn is one of the company’s heart pills. Pfizer warned that the combination of the two different drugs could be deadly.

Pfizer Scandal

In 1996, Pfizer conducted an unapproved clinical trial. It involved children with meningitis in Nigeria, CBS News reported. The trials led to the deaths of 11 children. Dozens more were left disabled.

Pfizer’s Unapproved Clinical Trial
The unauthorized trial involved tests on 200 children with Pfizer's antibiotic Trovan.

Trovan is a drug severely restricted in use because of its potential to cause liver damage. Injury to the liver as a result of taking Trovan can lead to liver failure and death.

In 2011, Pfizer paid $700,000 to four families who lost children during the Trovan trials.

In addition, the company set up a $35 million fund for those affected by Trovan. Pfizer also agreed to sponsor health projects in Kano, Nigeria.

Pfizer Logo
Pfizer Facts
  1. Established 1849
  2. Founders Charles Pfizer and Charles F. Erhart
  3. Headquarters New York City
  4. Size More than 90,000 employees
  5. 2017 Revenue $52.5 billion
  6. Subsidiaries Agouron Pharmaceuticals, G.D. Searle, GenTrac, Greenstone, Hospira, InnoPharma, Meridian Medical Technologies, Monarch Pharmaceuticals, Nordic Sales Group, Parke-Davis, Peak Enterprises, Roerig, Warner-Lambert, Wyeth, etc.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

Kristin Compton
Written By Kristin Compton Writer

Kristin Compton's background is in legal studies. She worked as a paralegal before joining Drugwatch as a writer and researcher. She was also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants. A mother and longtime patient, she has firsthand experience of the harmful effects prescription drugs can have on women and their children. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies | Pre-Law from University of West Florida
  • Past employment with The Health Law Firm and Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson LLC
  • Personal experience battling severe food allergies, asthma and high-risk pregnancies
Edited By
Emily Miller
Emily Miller Managing Editor

23 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

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