Pfizer's R&D cull yet to take shape

Analysis

Aside from the painful closure of a large UK-based research facility, a complete picture of Pfizer’s substantial R&D retrenchment has yet to be revealed. But for starters the company has named a few therapy areas, including respiratory, urology and allergy, which are no longer of interest.

This announcement is likely to have had a couple of Pfizer’s partners shifting nervously. In particular Ligand Pharmaceuticals, which is waiting to hear whether a phase III menopause therapy previously partnered with Wyeth has been submitted to the FDA. As the analysis below reveals, Pfizer has a number of projects that look vulnerable if the company is to meet its target of slashing $2bn from its R&D budget next year. 

Making a mark

In the face of multiple patent expiries, none more painful than the loss of Lipitor, Pfizer has bowed to investor pressure to prop up earnings growth by slashing spending and returning big chunks of cash to shareholders, mostly via share buybacks. Last week, the company said it was now targeting R&D spending of between $6.5-7bn in 2012, down from a previous target of $8-8.5bn (Pfizer patent cliff dwarfs peers as loss of Lipitor looms, February 1, 2011).

The closure of an R&D facility in Sandwich, South East England, will account for a big slice of this figure. The reverberations of the high profile move are still being felt in the UK, where 2,400 employees face redundancy or relocation to a couple of much smaller sites.

Pfizer’s top ten-selling drugs, which generated $30bn last year, will only be pulling in $11.6bn by 2016. The company’s new chief executive, Ian Read, clearly felt the need for drastic action and is certainly making his presence felt.

So far, the company has said that areas deemed to be greater risk and less productive will be culled, such as allergy and respiratory, urology, internal medicine and tissue repair. The company will also “create focus” in its post-proof-of-concept portfolio, suggesting even later-stage candidates in fields of interest will be held up to closer security.

On the upside, investment will be maintained or even boosted in neuroscience, cardiovascular, metabolic and endocrine, oncology, inflammation, immunology and vaccines. This still leaves Pfizer with some pretty big areas to dabble in.

Under scrutiny

The table below highlights a few projects that might face the chop, being developed internally or through external collaborations. 

The most advanced and precarious-looking project is Aprela, a therapy for menopause symptoms that was gained with Wyeth. It is the only product in the table below that analysts have allocated sales forecasts: a launch is pencilled in for 2012 and sales are seen reaching $118m by 2016, according to EvaluatePharmadata.

The drug, licensed from Ligand Pharmaceuticals, was supposed to be filed for US approval last year but little news has been heard on the project recently.

Last year, Pfizer licensed-on another Ligand product that it gained from Wyeth, a phase II contraceptive called tanaproget (NSP-989), suggesting women’s health may no longer be a focus.

Another partnership under scrutiny could be a respiratory collaboration with Rigel Pharmaceuticals forged back in 2005. One candidate, R343, a syk kinase inhibitor, had made it into phase I. Although Rigel still lists the collaboration on its website, the candidate did not appear in Pfizer’s most recent pipeline chart and trials do not appear to be ongoing, according to www.clinicaltrials.gov, so this project could already have been scrapped.

It is not clear what Pfizer’s plans for its eye-care projects are, and here the signs are mixed. The company did hand back rights to a glaucoma project to NicOx back in 2009 but only last December bought rights to develop a monoclonal antibody from Lpath, called iSONEP, which is being tested in wet age-related macular degeneration.

This suggests the company is willing to pursue novel therapies in this area, and could provide encouragement for other existing partners. In particular, data is due in the next few months on a phase II candidate in diabetic macular oedema, PF-04523655, a novel RNAi therapeutic that was developed by partners Quark Pharmaceuticals and Silence Therapeutics.

Pfizer pipeline in 'exit' fields
Therapy area Phase Product Originator Pharmacological Class
Gastro-Intestinal Phase I PF-05230901 Pfizer Appetite stimulant
Genito-Urinary Phase III Aprela Ligand Pharmaceuticals Oestrogen agonist & selective oestrogen receptor modulator (SERM)
Phase I PF-4967544 Pfizer Genito-urinary agent
Respiratory Phase II PF-00610355 Pfizer Beta 2 adrenoreceptor agonist
PF-3635659 Pfizer Respiratory agent
PF-3715455 Pfizer Respiratory agent
Phase I R343 Rigel Pharmaceuticals Syk kinase inhibitor
PF-4764793 (PF-241939) Pfizer Anti-asthma agent
PF-3893787 Pfizer Respiratory agent
UK-396082 Pfizer Activated thrombin-activable fibrinolysis (TAFIa) inhibitor
PF-3526299 Pfizer Respiratory agent
Sensory Organs Phase II PF-04523655 Atugen RTP801 RNAi therapeutic
PF-04217329 Pfizer Nitric oxide-releasing prostaglandin F2 analogue
Phase I iSONEP Lpath Anti-sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) MAb
PF-4382923 Pfizer Anti-beta amyloid MAb

Source: EvaluatePharma

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