Pfizer axes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research

Pfizer is to axe research and development into new neuroscience drugs, leading to around 300 job losses.

The company said it plans to axe development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease drugs, although it will continue to support its late-stage pain drug tanezumab, fibrolmyalgia drug Lyrica, and research into neurological drugs for rare diseases.

During the build-up to the JP Morgan conference, the biggest biopharma investment event of the year, Pfizer said it also plans to start a venture fund for neuroscience drugs.

Pfizer is making a presentation at the event, which is held in San Francisco and traditionally sets the tone for investment environment in pharma and biotech during the year to come.

According to press reports, around 300 jobs will go as a result of the changes, with 100 positions affected at research labs in Cambridge and Andover in Massachusetts, and Groton in Connecticut.

Projects that will be axed include preclinical, early and mid-stage clinical programmes, but Pfizer could choose to sell them off, or co-fund them through venture investments.

Big pharma has been finding it tough to develop new therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s – Eli Lilly’s solanezumab failed in a late-stage clinical trial in Alzheimer’s and there has only been one new drug for Parkinson’s approved over the last decade.

The main issue in both cases is continued uncertainty over the biological mechanisms of the diseases, which makes it difficult to find suitable receptor targets in the nervous system that could be used to slow or stay disease progression.

Things are looking better for tanezumab, which Pfizer is developing with Eli Lilly for patients with osteoarthritis and chronic lower back pain.

The FDA last year fast-tracked development of the drug, after years of delays caused by concerns over its safety.

At the end of 2012, the FDA placed development of all NGF inhibitors, including tanezumab, on clinical hold until manufacturers could demonstrate data showing they did not cause neurological damage over the course of clinical studies.

Pfizer completed three studies and submitted the data to the FDA in February 2015, and the regulator lifted the hold soon afterwards.

The FDA’s change of heart is driven by the need to find alternatives to opioid painkillers, which are blamed for the opioid addiction crisis sweeping through the US.

Pfizer is not the only company which has disinvested in neuroscience – AstraZeneca culled its research department in 2012, leaving a much smaller neuroscience ‘iMed’ team focused on creating partnerships with external research groups.

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