Pfizer shrugged off the impact of generic competition to two of its former top-selling products in the third quarter, posting profits that more than doubled year-on-year to $3.36 billion.

Cost-savings of $600 million from plant closures and staff cuts, as well as strong sales growth for cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), Celebrex (celecoxib) for arthritis and new pain medication Lyrica (pregabalin), contributed to the hike in net income.

Despite the loss of patent protection to antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) and antibiotic Zithromax (azithromycin) in 2006, group revenues rose 9% to $12.3 billion in the third quarter, with pharma sales up by the same margin to $11.5 billion.

But Pfizer warned that it would have to continue and extend its cost-savings programme beyond the $4 billion in cuts announced last year, in order to maintain profitability during an upcoming period of flat sales growth.

“In 2007 we plan to implement a new company-wide cost- reduction initiative that will lower our cost base in 2007 and 2008, as well as give us greater flexibility to modulate our expenses in the face of changing market conditions,” said Pfizer’s chief executive Jeffrey Kindler, adding that the details would be made available early next year.

Looking at the fortunes of Pfizer’s key product lines, Ian Read, president of worldwide pharma operations at the company, said sales of epilepsy and neuropathic pain drug Lyrica came in at $340 million in the third quarter, a great performance by a product that was only introduced in the USA a little over a year ago.

Top-selling drug Lipitor saw its sales rise 15% in the quarter to $3.3 billion, while Celebrex advanced 20% to $537 million, seemingly shrugging off the negative sentiment afforded by the withdrawal of Merck & Co’s similar product Vioxx (rofecoxib) in 2004 and continuing debate about the safety of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Alan Levin, Pfizer’s chief financial officer, said the company was on track to meet its financial targets in 2006, with revenues comparable to 2005 levels on current exchange rates.

New products Chantix/Champix (varenicline) for smoking cessation and Exubera (inhaled insulin) for diabetes are off to a good start, according to Pfizer, although it did not divulge preliminary sales revenues. Exubera is now available in Ireland, the UK and Germany – but barred from reimbursement in the latter two countries – as well as the USA. Chantix is available in the USA and will shortly start to roll-out in Europe, having won approval there last month.