Pharma, R&D

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.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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