Pfizer aims to be the third big pharma with a significant presence in gene therapy. Its plans to initiate this year three Phase 3 trials targeting mutation-driven blood and muscular diseases would make it a large player in this cutting-edge area of medicine.
The difference between Pfizer and its Swiss rivals Novartis and Roche is that its treatments for muscular dystrophy and hemophilia do not look like they will be the first to market. With hopes that gene therapy could be a one-and-done treatment, arriving second could put Pfizer at a disadvantage if eager patients rush for curative therapies.
Having spun of its off-patent drugs business, the pharma is now trying to talk up the "new Pfizer." Its gene therapies are among seven pipeline projects that it cited Tuesday during its year-end earnings call as critical to its strategy of becoming a more innovation-focused company.
Company executives weren't, however, asked to answer how Pfizer views the emerging gene therapy competition. BioMarin Pharmaceutical looks set to get to the market earlier in hemophilia A than Pfizer, while Uniqure in hemophilia B and Sarepta Therapeutics in Duchenne muscular dystrophy appear ahead.
Pfizer's hemophilia A project, the Sangamo Therapeutics-originated SB-525, is up against BioMarin's valrox, which has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for an approval decision later this year.
In hemophilia B, fidanacogene elaparvovec, licensed from Roche subsidiary Spark Therapeutics, is in a neck-and-neck race with UniQure's etranacogene dezaparvovec in Phase 3 testing. Duchenne research, meanwhile, is led by Sarepta, which is launching a Phase 3 trial of its drug this year, putting Pfizer's at a disadvantage.
Other than announcing its intent to launch Phase 3 trials in hemophilia A and Duchenne, Pfizer didn't provide much more detail about these clinical programs. Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's chief scientific officer, said more could be revealed about the DMD program at an upcoming research & development day.
Progress on that project had been delayed after one patient was hospitalized with kidney complications, but Dolsten said trial investigators had dosed additional patients. The Phase 2 will wrap up this spring, and the new data and longer follow-up will help guide a Phase 3 trial design, the company said.
Dolsten also described the hemophilia A project as having a 'best-in-class profile," even though BioMarin's valrox has impressed hematologists with its ability to increase expression of a key blood-clotting protein.
In addition, he said the company hopes it can bring one new gene therapy into its pipeline per year.
Building its drug development portfolio is one reason why the company has chosen not to buy back shares, said CEO Albert Bourla.
He pointed to the company's need in the past to buy back shares to support their valuation because of revenue declines, but now he said the company is in a different strategic position.
"The company is going to have a best-in-class revenue growth story," he said. "We can use the capital to invest in good Phase 2, Phase 3 assets to grow our pipeline."