As a new executive prepares to take the helm of Pfizer Inc., the drugmaker is placing a big bet its laboratories will bring to market a new generation of big-selling drugs.

Pfizer CEO Ian Read, who is stepping aside at the end of the year, took over the company as it was digesting a $68 billion takeover of rival Wyeth. During his eight years at the helm, Mr. Read tried but failed to tie up even bigger deals for AstraZeneca PLC and Allergan PLC.

The company isn’t looking at such megadeals now to boost sales, executives say, because of the drugs and vaccines the company has in the late stages of development. “Our pipeline looks great,” Mr. Read said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He will be succeeded by deputy Albert Bourla.

The reliance on research is unusual for a company that was built largely through acquisitions, and a surprising legacy for Mr. Read.

An accountant by training, he began as chief executive after the company had suffered high-profile setbacks developing a new generation of big-selling drugs whose sales could replace revenue lost when moneymakers like Lipitor cholesterol pills faced generic rivals.

Among Mr. Read’s first public moves as CEO was cutting Pfizer’s research spending, which he described as wasteful. He also oversaw a rethinking of which drugs the company should pursue, abandoning efforts in allergies and urology he felt faced long odds and low returns.

Mr. Read said in the interview that the moves were part of a calculated effort to get the company to manage its spending more tightly, and to revive its research.

He said he wanted to focus on developing drugs and vaccines in areas where Pfizer could bring its expertise, hire strong leaders to oversee the work and give researchers the authority and support to make the hard choices about which projects to pursue and which to drop.

Mr. Bourla pointed to a vaccine to prevent Clostridium difficile bacteria infections, a compound to treat the immune-system condition causing hair loss and a new version of the Prevnar pneumonia vaccine that protects against more strains as promising.

Pfizer had been “a financial restructuring story. I think we’ve evolved to very much a pipeline story,” Chief Financial Officer Frank D’Amelio said in an interview.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new lung-cancer therapy from Pfizer, named Vizimpro, which Moody’s Investors Service has estimated could reach $250 million in yearly sales.

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