15 January 2018

Pfizer pulls pin on new dementia drugs

Drugs Mental Health

The world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company has given up on trying to develop novel drugs to combat the most-common form of dementia.

Pfizer’s decision to halt all further research into drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease follows years of unsuccessful clinical trials.  The company said it was a difficult call, given the tremendous need for new therapies.

“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 a statement.

Around 300 jobs would be lost, but Pfizer said it planned to create a new fund for neuroscience research in the future.

The failure rate of dementia drugs had made companies justifiably cautious, said Professor Tara Spires-Jones, a neuroscientist at Edinburgh University.

“More than 99% of trials for Alzheimer’s drugs have failed in past 15 years,” she said.

A number of drugs have reached stage three of clinical trials only to disappoint, including Pfizer’s drug bapineuzumab.

Each drug can cost around $3.4 billion to develop. A number of companies, including Novartis, Janssen, Biogen, Abbvie and Eli Lilly, are still working on treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Not all pharmaceutical companies are pulling out and there are over 100 clinical trials at the moment,” said Professor Spires-Jones.

“There is a lot going on in the basic science. We need to understand the complexity of the brain.”

The Alzheimer’s Society said Pfizer’s decision was a “heavy blow” to the 46.8 million people living with dementia worldwide.

Alzheimer’s Research UK encouraged companies to continue to invest in research in dementia and neuroscience.