Continued challenges and setbacks in drug development for neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease have prompted pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to step out of the field altogether. The move will result in about 300 layoffs in R&D positions at research sites in Massachusetts and Connecticut and will put the development of various neuroscience drug candidates on hold.
“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,” said a Pfizer spokesperson. “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.”
Drug development in the Alzheimer’s space is notoriously difficult, with multiple experimental therapies showing promise in preclinical trials only to fail in early human studies. But with more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s, regulatory approval of a true disease-modifying therapy would have major blockbuster potential.
Still, the costs associated with developing neurological therapies is even higher than those associated with other drug development efforts as candidates must both have an effect on disease pathology as well as improve cognitive function. Merck, Eli Lilly and, most recently, Axovant Sciences have all seen mid-to-late-stage clinical failures of Alzheimer’s therapies in recent years.
Pfizer too has had a tumultuous history with therapeutic development in the Alzheimer’s space. In 2012, Pfizer, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, ceased development of its monoclonal antibody drug bapineuzumab, after it failed to beat the placebo in a late-stage Alzheimer’s clinical trial.
According to Pfizer, the company may continue development of select drugs for rare neuromuscular and neurological diseases. The company also announced the creation of a neuroscience venture fund designed to support research conducted by others, the details of which have yet to be disclosed.