Pfizer cuts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research: industry news round-up

Written by Roisin Conneely

From clinical trial results to major policy change announcements, here we present an overview of the latest industry news from the biggest players in neuroscience and neurology.
Our pick of the biggest headlines this week:

  • Pfizer to end research into novel drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  • Shire to begin operating as two units, focusing on neuroscience and rare disease
  • Phase III clinical trial results for idalopirdine in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

Pfizer to end research into novel drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases

The week began with the news that Pfizer Inc. (NY, USA) is planning to cease research into the development of new drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The pharmaceutical giant is expected to eliminate 300 positions from its neuroscience discovery and early development programs in order to redistribute funds to other continuing projects, such as its rare disease program. The announcement comes after some disappointing results for the company’s neurodegeneration investments, notably the failure of the drug bapineuzumab to reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms in its second round of trials in 2012.

The statement has been met with largely negative responses from the field, with the Parkinson’s Foundation calling the decision “a major step backwards for the Parkinson’s community, as it hinders critical progress toward improved treatments for those living with the disease.” James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said the news was “disappointing”, but remains hopeful: “There are still many reasons for people and families affected by dementia to maintain hope. The G7 nations have committed to finding a disease modifying treatment by 2025 and this is still within reach as long as research investment is increased and sustained across the board.”

John Hardy (UCL, London, UK) agrees that research into the conditions is far from over: “It is a shame that Pfizer is withdrawing from Alzheimer and Parkinson research. While neurodegeneration has been a tough target for the pharma industry, Pfizer’s withdrawal comes just as the first ever successes in mechanistic treatment of these diseases is entering clinical practice. My suspicion is that they are withdrawing at exactly the wrong time.” Only time will tell how this development will impact patients, but Pfizer is expected to launch a new venture fund to explore additional neurological research program.

Click here to watch our interview with John Hardy on the latest updates in neurodegeneration

Shire to begin operating as two units, focusing on neuroscience and rare disease

Biopharmaceutical firm Shire (Dublin, Republic of Ireland) this week announced plans to separate into two divisions, neuroscience and rare diseases, hoping that the new units will be “better positioned to deliver their full potential”, according to a statement released during the 36th Annual J.P Morgan Healthcare Conference (CA, USA, 8-11th January 2018). The company plans to advance its stronghold in rare disease research through investment into novel immunotherapeutic approaches, with the neuroscience element aiming to expand beyond current ADHD research into broader neuropsychiatric drug development. With 70% of the company’s revenue generated from rare disease pharmaceuticals as of 30 September 2017, investing in neuroscience may be seen as a bold move. However, analysts at Berenberg predict the standalone neuroscience division could generate a value of US$8.5 billion. Shire’s Chief Executive Officer, Flemming Ornskov, commented: “Our new Rare Disease and Neuroscience Divisions will be well positioned for growth, profitability, innovation, and serving the needs of patients.”

Phase III clinical trial results for idalopirdine in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

Clinical trial results have been released for an investigation into the drug idalopiridine for Alzheimer’s disease. The trial was carried out as a collaboration between California Pacific Medical Center (CA, USA) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School (MA, USA). Six-month usage of the drug was found to have no effect on cognition loss in patients with mild to moderate forms of the disease. The trial enrolled 2525 patients aged 50 years old and above and was implemented as a series of 24-week studies throughout the period of October 2013 to January 2017. Idalopiridine is a selective 5- hydroxytryptamine-6 receptor antagonist and was added to cholinesterase inhibitor treatment (donepezil in studies 1 and 2; donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine in study 3). Previous Phase II trials had suggested that such an antagonist may improve cognition in Alzheimer’s sufferers when used in combination with cholinesterase inhibitors, yet the current study shows no such indication. Potential limitations to the study include the fact that evidence of Alzheimer’s disease biomarker positivity was not a requirement for inclusion in the trial, meaning that some patients may have been included despite exhibiting no disease pathology.