Pfizer is weighing up the possibility of selling its Capsugel drug delivery systems unit.

The US giant says it is reviewing strategic alternatives for Capsugel, the world's leading provider of hard capsules, which may include a divestiture. Pfizer has hired Morgan Stanley to conduct the review process, saying it expects to make a further announcement by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

The decision to consider alternatives for Capsugel, acquired through the purchase of Warner-Lambert in 2000, is part of the firm's strategy "to optimise its business mix and leverage its competitive strengths to deliver value for shareholders," said Cavan Redmond, head of Pfizer's Diversified Businesses division. He added that Capsugel "now represents a unique business, which we believe has strong potential for growth outside of Pfizer", and its "consistent performance, as well as improved financial market conditions, make it a good time to undertake this review." The unit posted revenues of $740 million last year.

Meantime, Pfizer has presented mid-stage data on tasocitinib, a potential blockbuster, at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology congress in Gothenburg, as a treatment for psoriasis.

In a Phase II study, at week 12, tasocitinib, which is an oral Janus kinase-3 (JAK-3) inhibitor, achieved 75% improvement in the psoriasis area-and-severity index (PASI 75)  in a statistically significant proportion of patients. Specifically, PASI 75 responses for tasocitinib 2mg, 5mg and 15mg were 25%, 40.8% and 66.7% respectively versus placebo and as early as week 4, treatment with 5mg and 15mg significantly improved patient-reported health-related quality of life outcomes.

Tasocitinib is currently in Phase III trials for rheumatoid arthritis, as well as for psoriasis. Analysts have heralded the drug as a serious competitor to the anti-tumour necrosis factor alpha inhibitors such as Abbott Laboratories’ Humira (adalimumab), Johnson & Johnson/Merck & Co’s Remicade (infliximab) and Pfizer/Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept).