A decades-old glaucoma drug tossed aside by Pfizer gets a new life at a small biotech
Months ago, Pfizer made a grim announcement that it would stop manufacturing phospholine iodide, its decades-old “miracle drug” for a rare form of glaucoma. The pharma said its inventory would run dry by May 2021, leaving some patients with few options short of surgery.
But after snagging the rights and the rest of Pfizer’s supply, a small New York biotech is looking to give phospholine iodide new life.
Pfizer is handing over the drug’s NDA and trademark to Fera Pharmaceuticals, a Locust Valley, New York-based company run by former Sandoz US CEO Frank DellaFera, the pharma said in a statement on Monday.
While Fera declined a request for comment, DellaFera shared this general statement regarding the company’s vision on its website: “Our goal is simple — to keep more quality healthcare choices alive for the people who need them.”
Phospholine iodide was approved back in 1960, and until recently was manufactured by Pfizer to treat aphakic glaucoma, a rare condition that can occur after cataract surgery. The disease is associated with poor control of intraocular pressure, and failure to lower that pressure can result in blindness. Without medication to do so, some patients must resort to surgery.
“For the few patients I have on it, nothing but surgery could replace it,” one cataract and glaucoma surgeon posted on Twitter back in May.
Just saw a patient who would be blind if not for phospholine iodide – which is being discontinued due to low volume of sales. I wonder if it will come back as an orphan drug for aphakic glaucoma? For the few patients I have on it, nothing but surgery could replace it.
— Nathan Radcliffe (@n8radcliffe) May 20, 2021
Pfizer cited supply chain issues and a decline in patient use as the reason why it decided to stop making phospholine iodide. The complex supply chain has become increasingly unstable over the years, the company said, adding that about 100 patients use the drug currently in the US.
Last month, the FDA agreed to extend the drug’s approved shelf life from 24 to 36 months, adding an additional year to the label to address short-term shortages. And according to Pfizer, Fera has “the capabilities, experience, and motivation to bring P.I. to patients on a sustainable and expedited basis.”
Both Pfizer and Fera declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal. Some worry the new ownership could lead to price hikes for the drug, which currently costs around $100 per 5ml, according to drugs.com.
Pfizer says it will provide consultation services to Fera, though it’s unclear what the company’s plans are going forth — or if it will be able to avoid the same manufacturing issues that haunted Pfizer.
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