Pfiz­er is ax­ing its neu­ro­sciences di­vi­sion, lay­ing off 300 and dis­card­ing new drugs

Pfiz­er is start­ing out 2018 by rip­ping up its ear­ly-, mid-stage and pre­clin­i­cal R&D op­er­a­tions fo­cused on neu­ro­sciences and lay­ing off hun­dreds of work­ers en­gaged in the de­vel­op­ment work.

In a state­ment, Pfiz­er $PFE says it is is ax­ing about 300 work­ers in Con­necti­cut and Mass­a­chu­setts — about 100 each in An­dover, Gro­ton and Cam­bridgewhere it’s been con­cen­trat­ing its R&D ef­forts — and dis­card­ing a slate of Phase I/II and pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies.

Pfiz­er is keep­ing tanezum­ab and its work on Lyri­ca, with ap­pli­ca­tions in epilep­sy. And oth­er rare dis­ease pro­grams in the neu­rol­o­gy field are al­so be­ing re­tained.

Pfiz­er has con­trac­tu­al ties on tanezum­ab that can’t be sim­ply dis­card­ed. Af­ter de­cid­ing to make a come­back run on the an­ti-NGF drug, Pfiz­er li­censed out rights to Eli Lil­ly in a $1.7 bil­lion deal back in 2013. The rest of the ex­per­i­men­tal work is over.

“This was an ex­er­cise to re-al­lo­cate spend across our port­fo­lio,” Pfiz­er not­ed in the state­ment to End­points News, “to fo­cus on those ar­eas where our pipeline, and our sci­en­tif­ic ex­per­tise, is strongest.”

And in lieu of do­ing ac­tu­al re­search in the field, Pfiz­er is set­ting up a ded­i­cat­ed ven­ture fund:

“We rec­og­nize that neu­ro­science is an area of tremen­dous un­met need for pa­tients and we plan to cre­ate a ded­i­cat­ed neu­ro­science ven­ture fund to sup­port con­tin­ued ef­forts to ad­vance the field. More de­tails on the fund will be forth­com­ing this year.”

Big Phar­ma has had a com­pli­cat­ed re­la­tion­ship with neu­ro­sciences, drawn to the po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ing new block­busters but fre­quent­ly put off by the high fail­ure rates and still hazy sci­ence that backs much of the work.

Mikael Dol­sten

Pfiz­er’s web site lists 8 Phase I and Phase II pro­grams in neu­ro­sciences, its third largest con­cen­tra­tion of pipeline ef­forts. Those drugs in­clude a Phase II GA­BA-A re­cep­tor ag­o­nist PF-06372865 and an­oth­er mid-stage ef­fort on Parkin­son’s dis­ease. There are al­so 4 ear­ly-stage projects on Alzheimer’s.

In the fall of 2016 Pfiz­er re­cruit­ed Har­vard pro­fes­sor Ole Isac­son to head up neu­ro­sciences work, cel­e­brat­ing the com­pa­ny’s com­mit­ment to mak­ing break­through ef­forts on Alzheimer’s and Parkin­son’s. Isac­son, though, qui­et­ly left just 9 months lat­er, in May of last year.

Pfiz­er has been ruth­less when it comes to R&D cuts, slash­ing the bud­get sev­er­al years ago and mak­ing deep cuts at ma­jor re­search hubs in Con­necti­cut and the UK. Chief sci­en­tist Mikael Dol­sten has made it clear that R&D re­or­ga­ni­za­tion is a con­stant, amp­ing up and wind­ing down as the com­pa­ny shifts fo­cus on its most promis­ing prospects. And it’s beefed up R&D spend­ing to about $8 bil­lion last year, the fourth high­est in bio­phar­ma R&D.

Right now, neu­ro­sciences is not one of those ar­eas. A spokesper­son adds that the com­pa­ny plans to shift its R&D bud­get in neu­ro­sciences to oth­er ar­eas where it re­mains fo­cused.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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FDA's con­tro­ver­sial Aduhelm de­ci­sion leaves ALS pa­tients feel­ing spurned

The FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been met with fierce resistance from all corners of the biopharma industry, but few seem to be as upset with the decision as ALS patients and advocacy groups.

For all that’s already been written and discussed about the agency’s announcement, from the drug’s exorbitantly high price of $56,000 per year to criticism over lowered standards, ALS patients see something more. ALS patients and associations say they largely regarded Aduhelm’s approval as a bittersweet double standard: happy that those with Alzheimer’s have a new drug available, but questioning how the FDA evaluated Biogen’s drug compared to the experimental programs being studied for their own disease.

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As drug­mak­ers spend $6B an­nu­al­ly on DTC ads, sen­a­tors re­vive bill to in­clude list prices in ads

A new GAO report on biopharma companies’ $6 billion annual spending on direct-to-consumer advertising is pushing US Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to reintroduce legislation that would require price disclosures in the ads.

The GAO found that drugmakers spent almost half—$8.2 billion of the $17.8 billion from 2016 to 2018—on DTC ads for drugs in three therapeutic categories, including inflammatory conditions (e.g., arthritis, gout), endocrine and metabolic disorders (e.g., type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism), and conditions affecting the central nervous system (e.g., depression, multiple sclerosis), according to the new report.

Jeff Albers, Blueprint CEO

Blue­print Med­i­cines nabs 4th ap­proval in bid to­ward prof­itabil­i­ty

Blueprint Medicines’ push to profitability continues.

On Wednesday, the Cambridge biotech announced the FDA approved its longtime lead drug, Ayvakit, for advanced systemic mastocytosis, a group of debilitating rare diseases where one type of immune cell — mast cells — builds up uncontrollably in a particular organ. The decision came on the heels of Phase III trials showing that more than half of late-stage patients who received the drug responded to it and did so for just over three years.

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