Pfizer halts research into Alzheimer's And Parkinson's

Pfizer has announced plans to end its research efforts to discover new drugs for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.


By Colin Dwyer


The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer explained, "As a result of a recent comprehensive review, we have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate [spending] to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients."


A round of several hundred layoffs "will take place over the coming months" at its research and development labs in the Northeast — specifically, sites in Cambridge and Andover, Mass., and in Groton, Conn.


The decision is likely to come as a blow not only to Pfizer employees, but also the millions of people worldwide suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, two neurodegenerative disorders that target memory and motor functions, respectively. Neither has a known cure — and, as British neuroscientist Joseph Jebelli recently told Fresh Air, current treatments have proved far less than ideal.


"The current medication for Alzheimer's disease is approved, essentially, because it's better than nothing," Jebelli said last week.


"These drugs were pioneered in the '70s and '80s and they treat the symptoms, as opposed to the underlying biology. And we found that in about 60 percent of patients these drugs will delay the symptoms by about six months to a year. And that is certainly better than nothing. ... But six months to a year is just simply not good enough."


Despite heavily funding research efforts into potential treatments in the past, Pfizer has faced high-profile disappointment in recent years, as Reuters notes: "In 2012, Pfizer and partner Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) called off additional work on the drug bapineuzumab after it failed to help patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's in its second round of clinical trials."


Another potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders — this one developed by Axovant, another pharmaceutical company — also found itself recently abandoned. The company dropped its experimental drug intepirdine after it failed to improve motor function in patients with a certain form of dementia — just three months after it also failed to show positive effects in Alzheimer's patients.


As The Wall Street Journal reports, treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases are seen as a crucial beacon of hope for patients and their families. And with an estimated 5.5 million people suffering from Alzheimer's in the U.S. and about half a million Americans suffering from Parkinson's, these treatments are seen by many in the pharmaceutical industry and other market watchers as having "multibillion-dollar sales potential," the Journal says.


And so, the paper explains, other companies plan to carry these efforts forward:

"Some big drugmakers, such as AstraZeneca PLC, Biogen Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co., keep pursuing Alzheimer's treatment despite setbacks, though analysts consider the projects very risky.


"Much of the early drug research is now in the hands of startups established in the past few years, including some led by former executives and scientists from big drug companies.


Pfizer also notes it plans to "create a dedicated neuroscience venture fund to support continued efforts to advance the field."


In the meantime, Jebelli said hope persists for patients and researchers alike.


"Just the last few years alone have seen some serious breakthroughs in Alzheimer's research," he said. "Ten years should be enough time for us to develop, if not a cure, certainly a much better treatment than what we have at the moment."


The Australian has reported that "Those in the field are now pessimistic. Similar drugs are still in the pipeline and may work, but the lack of results has led some scientists to suggest the amyloid hypothesis is a flawed model of the disease and that there has been a wasted decade or more in research."


Article courtesy of NPR. See the original article at


10 January 2018.