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Our history

Pfizer has been in business for more than 160 years. Since its small beginnings, the company has remained dedicated to discovering and developing new and better ways to prevent and treat disease, and improve health and wellbeing for people around the world. 


Cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart, young entrepreneurs from Germany, opened Charles Pfizer & Company as a fine-chemicals business. A modest red-brick building in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, served as office, laboratory, factory, and warehouse.

Their first product was a palatable form of santonin — an antiparasitic used to treat intestinal worms, a common affliction in mid-19th century America. Combining their skills, Pfizer, a chemist, and Erhart, a confectioner, blended santonin with almond-toffee flavoring and shaped it into a candy cone. The 'new santonin was an immediate success and the company was launched.

1939 – 1945

Pfizer responded to an appeal from the United States Government to expedite the manufacture of penicillin to treat Allied soldiers fighting in World War II and pioneered the use of fermentation technology.

Pfizer's senior management invested millions of dollars, putting their own assets as Pfizer stockholders at stake, to buy the equipment and facilities needed. The company purchased a nearby vacant ice factory, and employees worked around the clock to convert it and perfect the complex production process. In just four months, Pfizer was producing five times more penicillin than originally anticipated. Penicillin was a turning point in human history – the first real defence against bacterial infection.


The first pharmaceutical was sold in the United States under the Pfizer label. Pfizer began expansion into overseas markets and the International Division was created.


Pfizer’s first facility in the UK opened in Folkestone.


Pfizer established a new facility, along the Kent coastline from Folkestone, in Sandwich. At the heart of its operation were the new ‘deep-tank fermentation’
methods, developed specifically for the mass production of penicillin during the war years. Pfizer Sandwich commemorated its first batch of the antibiotic with a ceremony held at the site which was attended by the discoverer of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, as guest of honour. 


The remaining Folkestone operations were consolidated into the Sandwich site. 


The Pfizer business was structured around five core divisions: Pharmaceutical, Chemicals, Consumer, Agricultural, and Research.


By the 1970’s, the Pfizer UK’s facility in Sandwich had become the largest pharmaceutical research site outside the USA. 


By the mid-80s, 60,000 compounds had been synthesised in the Sandwich laboratories. The Pfizer Research division had tripled in size. 


Pfizer, Inc. and Warner-Lambert merged to create the world’s fastest growing pharmaceutical company. 


Pfizer UK’s commercial operations were relocated to the company’s new headquarters at Walton Oaks, near Tadworth in Surrey.


Pfizer UK and Pharmacia merged to become the largest pharmaceutical company in the UK and the number one supplier of medicines to the NHS.


Pfizer began operations in Cambridge with the formation of a research unit dedicated to developing therapies for Regenerative Medicine. 


Pfizer continued to grow with the acquisition of Wyeth.


Neusentis, a biotech-like research unit with a particular focus on pain and sensory disorders, was established in Cambridge to work in partnership with academic researchers in the city and around the globe to change the lives of patients suffering from pain, and other diseases and disorders for which there are no therapies or cures.

In the same year, a global review of our R&D operations led to a decision to focus our research efforts in a reduced number of therapeutic areas – neuroscience; cardiovascular; oncology; inflammation and immunology; and vaccines – and place greater emphasis on developing research collaborations with other members of the life sciences community.

As a result of this R&D review, Pfizer retained a reduced, but still significant presence in Sandwich as part of the newly named Discovery Park, a science and technology Enterprise Zone and home to a variety of companies from the life sciences, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, science and technology sectors.


A new cold storage facility was opened at the manufacturing site in Havant, specialising in cold chain packaging and supply and providing temperature-sensitive vaccines and injectable medicines to more than 120 destinations around the world. It is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, storing up to 38.4 million doses, before being distributed to clinicians and patients 


Jonathan Emms, Managing Director Pfizer UK became president of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, the body which represents innovative research-based biopharmaceutical companies, large, medium and small, leading an exciting new era of biosciences in the UK.