Pfizer Shrinks Its Drug Pipeline Amid R&D Cuts

Pfizer says it has discontinued 15 of the projects in its development pipeline as it works to cut its R&D expenses.
Pfizer says it has discontinued 15 of the projects in its development pipeline as it works to cut its R&D expenses.

Pfizer (PFE) on Tuesday said it is discontinuing 15 of the projects in its development pipeline. The news comes a month after the world's largest pharmaceutical company announced large cuts to its research and development.

In an update of its development pipeline, Pfizer said it is "prioritizing its research and development efforts in areas with the greatest scientific and commercial promise: immunology and inflammation, oncology, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, neuroscience and pain, and vaccines."

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The number of discontinued projects has slowed from Pfizer's last update in September, when it said it had discontinued 31 projects. However, the pace of the progress of its other projects also seems to have slowed. Only 17 projects are either new or have advanced to a new phase since September, while 25 projects had progressed in the September update.

Examples of drugs that have advanced since the previous update include Tafamidis meglumine, a treatment for a rare liver condition, which moved up to the registration phase; and inotuzumab ozogamicin for aggressive lymphoma, which moved up to Phase 3.

How the Pipeline Looks Now

The newly discontinued projects included two potential new indications for Lyrica, a fibromialgia treatment; as well as three potential new drugs to treat cancer; two potential new drugs for Alzheimer's disease; and the potential use of Chantix, which is used to help people quit smoking, to help treat Alzheimer's patients. The discontinued projects were from all the different stages, ranging from Phase I -- or early trials -- to registration, one of the last steps before a drug can be marketed.

According to the update, Pfizer now has a total of 118 projects, including both the development of new drugs and of new indications for existing drugs. Of these, nine are in the registration phase; 25 are in Phase III, or advanced trials; 35 are in Phase II trials; and 49 are in Phase I.

Thirty of the projects, more than a quarter of the pipeline, are for biologics, which are medicines created by biological processes instead of via chemistry. Four of the projects are for vaccines, while the rest are for small molecules, or regular chemical-based drugs.

Because biologics are harder to replicate and their approval process remains vastly complex, many pharmaceutical companies have been turning to biologics to help stave off the so-called patent cliff.

The development of new drugs makes up 93 of the projects, with four in the registration stage, 13 in Phase III, 27 in Phase II, and 49 in Phase I.

More Cuts Likely to Come

Pfizer warned that month that cuts were coming. When it posed its latest earnings in early February, Pfizer said that it planned to cut its R&D expenses to just $6.5 billion next year, down from $8 billion this year and $9.4 billion in 2010.

Pfizer also said it was exiting a major research and development center in England -- where Viagra was discovered -- within two years, laying off most of its 2,400 employees.

It's no wonder that deep R&D cuts -- and the reorganization of its pipeline -- are needed. Drugs that make up 42% of Pfizer's pharmaceutical revenue are slated to lose patent protection between 2010 and 2012. Among those headed for the patent cliff include best-selling cholesterol fighter Lipitor, which accounts for more than $10 billion a year in sales.