Pfizer has posted a reasonable set of financials despite the effects of generic competition to the cholesterol blockbuster Lipitor, though analysts got more excited about the possibility of the US giant splitting its drugs business.

Fourth-quarter net income leapt to $6.32 billion, compared with $1.44 billion in the like, year-earlier period, boosted by the sale of its nutrition business to Nestle for $11.85 billion. Group turnover was $15.07 billion, down 7%.

Biopharmaceutical sales decreased 9% to $12.89 billion and Lipitor (atorvastatin) fell 71% to $584 million, hit by competition from other statins and the loss of patent protection. The blood pressure treatment Norvasc (amlodipine) fell 4% to $348 million, while the erectile dysfunction blockbuster Viagra (sildenafil) brought in $553 million, up 6%. The glaucoma drug Xalatan (latanoprost) slumped 35% to $189 million.

Lyrica (pregabalin), for epilepsy, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain, is now Pfizer's best-selling drug and increased 13% to $1.13 million, while the kidney cancer treatment Sutent (sunitinib) was up 2% to $323 million.  The COX-2 inhibitor Celebrex (celecoxib) rose 12% to $750 million but the smoking cessation drug Chantix/Champix (varenicline) slipped 1% to $174 million.

As for products Pfizer got hold of through its acquisition of Wyeth, sales of the pneumococcal disease vaccine Prevnar/Prevenar 13 increased 19% to $993 mllion. The arthritis and psoriasis therapy Enbrel (etanercept) brought in $957 million outside North America (+3%), while the Premarin (conjugated oestrogens) range of hormone replacement therapies contributed $276 million to Pfizer’s coffers, an increase of 8%.

Chief executive Ian Read said that in 2013, the company is looking forward to successful launches for the rheumatoid arthritis drug Xeljanz (tofacitinib) and the oral anticoagulant Eliquis (apixaban), which "represent important new therapies in high-need markets". In terms of Pfizer's mid-to-late stage pipeline, he gave special mention to palbociclib (PD-332991) for advanced breast cancer, RN316 (PCSK9) for lowering LDL cholesterol, dacomitinib for advanced non-small cell lung cancer, inotuzumab for aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, plus Xeljanz for psoriasis, and the rLP2086 vaccine for meningococcal B.

Mr Read went on to say that "in addition, I expect that ‘bolt-on’ business development will continue to play an important role in supplementing our internal efforts".

Following the sale of nutrition and an imminent initial public offering of a 19.8% stake in its animal health business Zoetis, the CEO faced a number of questions on a conference call about the possibility of further spin-offs. Noting that in developed markets like the USA and Europe, Pfizer's pharma businesses are already structured into separate units for new drugs and generics, Mr Read said that "at some point the industry will globally separate into business models with an innovative core and a value core and you would see our management moving to manage the business that way over time,".

He then added that “if there is a value to shareholders of a split, I have acknowledged we are open to any construct that produces value for Pfizer". In a research note, Tim Anderson at Sanford Bernstein said "it is still possible that Pfizer will go the full distance and eventually split up the drugs side of the business, but this is not certain".