- Pfizer Inc. will halt its efforts to discover and develop new medicines for common neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, pulling back from a field that has proven challenging to pharmaceutical research even as the need for novel treatments has grown.
- As part of the restructuring, Pfizer will cut about 300 positions across research sites in Massachusetts and Connecticut and cull a handful of early- to mid-stage neuroscience programs.
- "We have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate funding to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients," Pfizer said in an emailed statement.
Drugmakers have found some success in neuroscience, developing new therapies for certain rare conditions as well as more common diseases like multiple sclerosis. Yet disease-modifying treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's — two of the largest unmet needs for diseases of the brain — remain out of reach.
A breakthrough would likely lead to blockbuster commercial success, spurring companies like Biogen Inc., Merck & Co. and Eli Lilly & Co. to remain committed to Alzheimer's research. The cost of failure, however, is high and the industry's track record to date is riddled with pricey clinical setbacks.
For Pfizer, it appears the potential return no longer justified the cost.
"This was an exercise to re-allocate spend across our portfolio, to focus on those areas where our pipeline, and our scientific expertise, is strongest," the company said. In October, Pfizer forecast drug R&D spending for 2017 would total between $7.5 billion and $7.8 billion, a roughly similar amount to 2016. (Full-year financial results for 2017 are not yet available.)
As of October, Pfizer listed six experimental neuroscience drugs in Phase 1 testing, and another two in Phase 2 trials. Four of those programs were aimed at Alzheimer's and another targeted Parkinson's.
Pfizer will continue to commit resources to late-stage development programs for Lyrica (pregabalin), a top-seller for diabetic nerve pain, and for tanezumab, a drug being tested in osteoarthritis pain as well as back and cancer pain. Research on drugs for rare neuromuscular and neurological diseases will also be spared, the company said.
Roughly 300 positions will be eliminated as a result of the move, spread evenly across two Pfizer sites in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut.
While Pfizer will shutter its own neuroscience drug development, the pharma giant plans to create a "dedicated neuroscience venture fund" to support research in the space. More details about the fund will be announced next year, Pfizer said.