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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 7, 2010

Pfizer's Golden Age

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Posted by Derek

I'm not sure I'd use this sort of language myself, but here we go: Pfizer's Martin Mackay is telling Bloomberg that the company is in a "golden age of drug discovery".

As of the end of last year, Pfizer had 26 drugs in phase-three trials. . .compared with eight at the end of 2007, Mackay said. That doesn’t include the treatments it got from Wyeth, he said at a briefing at the company’s research unit in Singapore.

Following the acquisition, Pfizer cut its research portfolio to 500 projects from 600, as it focuses on accelerating the development of drugs with a “big, early” effect in patient studies while weeding out the losers earlier in the process, Mackay said.

He says that Pfizer's pipeline is basically just running over with candidates in cancer, Alzheimer’s, pain, inflammation, and infectious diseases. And I've been hearing for years and years about weeding out the losing compounds earlier in the process, but as far as I can see, Phase III failures are either the same or going up as a share of total clinical dropouts.

At any rate, these assertions are subject to proof. For the sake of the patients that these drugs could help, and for the sake of Pfizer's patient shareholders, I hope that this golden-age talk is right. But there are a lot of ex-Pfizer people out there who have reasons of their own to dispute the statement.

Comments (34) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Drug Development


1. Hap on April 7, 2010 11:06 AM writes...

I'll just go with the low-information, cynical, liberal take and say that it's a golden age for Pfizer (and pharma in general) execs, since there's apparently a lot of gold to be had. There doesn't seem to be a lot of gold, however, anywhere else in pharma. I hope Pfizer's ore assays are good, because otherwise the only source of gold for them is likely to be their shareholders (who probably won't have much left to pillage afterwards).

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2. former pfizer on April 7, 2010 11:19 AM writes...

part of me fears that he could be right. Wouldn't it just sicken you if Pfizer did have success and use it to justify all the mergers and cuts. If even 20% of the Phase III trials work, the upper management will look pretty outsiders at least.

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3. pharmagossip on April 7, 2010 11:24 AM writes...

Pfizer's Golden Shower!

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4. Pharma Giles on April 7, 2010 12:07 PM writes...

Sounds like a man who is desperately trying to convince his boss that he's worth a "Meets Expectations" at appraisal time.

You are whistling in the dark, Mackay...

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5. Mark on April 7, 2010 12:11 PM writes...

Wow, as a former Pfizer employee, I haven't heard this before!!

I hate when they talk about Phase III compounds in development. Look closer and only count the ones that a NMEs. The last time I did this, I could count them all on one hand.


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6. Larry on April 7, 2010 12:14 PM writes...

I think it's likely they're going to go the Bextra route. Just sell anything for any purpose and you can't be held accountable.

Quite frankly they might consider becoming a bank and issue Pfizer credit cards at 30% interest.

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7. bary on April 7, 2010 12:27 PM writes...

Two questions arise: how many of these are NewChemicalEntities? How many of them came through Pfizer's research program, rather than acquisition?

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8. Witty Brit on April 7, 2010 12:47 PM writes...

A golden age of drug discovery when they no longer do drug discovery?

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9. mad on April 7, 2010 1:41 PM writes...

Appear strong when you are weakest?

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10. ex-Pfizerite on April 7, 2010 2:12 PM writes...

I just want to know what drugs Mackay is abusing ....

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11. Evorich on April 7, 2010 2:23 PM writes...

Does anyone have a list of what he's talking about?

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12. anchor on April 7, 2010 2:47 PM writes...

I am amused by the fact that they have so many drugs in P-III trials. My question is where the hell they are going to get all those $$$$$ for running these trials. Can some one help me here? if true, It is too good to be true!

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13. Anonymous on April 7, 2010 2:50 PM writes...

They're almost all multiple indications for a small number of cancer drugs. Now that's not going to give me a warm feeling as recently the oncology Phase III success rate at Big Blue has not exactly set the world on fire.

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14. Anonymous on April 7, 2010 3:04 PM writes...

"I am amused by the fact that they have so many drugs in P-III trials. My question is where the hell they are going to get all those $$$$$ for running these trials. Can some one help me here? if true, It is too good to be true!"

Where do you think all the money saved from laying so many people off has gone(besides lining the pocket of the executive caste)?

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15. Pericles on April 7, 2010 3:17 PM writes...

Here's what scholars say:

Invariably, the term "Golden Age" is bestowed retroactively, when the period in question has ended and is compared with what followed in the specific field discussed. A Golden Age is often followed by a decline, where new cultural products are derivative and less inspired and where politics begin to veer off from their initial course.

Yup, the golden age of Pfizer is history.

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16. partial agonist on April 7, 2010 3:41 PM writes...

Perhaps it's really an iron pyrite age.

Generally the execs are rewarded on the shine, not the substance.

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17. barry on April 7, 2010 4:29 PM writes...

As long as the FDA continues to define cancers by the tissue-of-origin, it will require a large number of Clinical trials to get a new drug approved for what the FDA calls a large number of indications. That's not the way cancer works, but that's the regulatory barrier.
That doesn't make this a golden age. It's just an expensive quirk of the cancer field.

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18. Anonymas on April 7, 2010 8:02 PM writes...

Well, according to the latest 10K (excluding the terminated Dimebon and Figitumumab), the non-LCM filed and PhIII compounds include Gaucher's disease drug (from Protalix), Apixaban (originally discovered at BMS), Tasocitinib (so called JAK-3 inhibitor, but more accurately a pan-JAK inhibitor with significant safety concerns), Tanezumab (from Rinat, probably the only truly interesting compound in the pipeline), bapineuzumab (from Elan/Wyeth/J&J, slim chance of success), various oncology kinase inhibitors as mentioned in other posts (Axitinib, Bosutinib, Neratinib, PF-066, PF-804) and Moxidectin (from Wyeth, for river blindness). Perhaps Dr. Mackay implies this is the golden age relative to what's to come.

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19. Aspirin on April 7, 2010 8:10 PM writes...

One has to understand what Mackay was saying. All he was saying was that it looks yellow, really yellow and shiny.

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20. milkshake on April 7, 2010 9:09 PM writes...

I suppose Dr. Mackay needs to cash his stock options

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21. medchem23 on April 8, 2010 3:00 AM writes...

He must be thinking about retiring soon. These guys usually start hallucinating wildly just before they bail and pull the golden ripcord.

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22. Anonymous on April 8, 2010 3:36 AM writes...

Well Mackay was told when Kindler took over that the only thing he really needed to worry about was delivery of the Phase III portfolio. Since much of it has turned out to be undeliverable he's spent the last few years clinging on for grim death hoping that none of the incoming personnel are good enough to replace him. But unless a few more of those Phase III get over the line in the next year or so, I reckon Pfizer are due a change of R&D leadership - Briggs or Rod anyone ?

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23. stuff on April 8, 2010 6:51 AM writes...

There is a pdf of pipeline on the website:

Maybe someone better aquainted with the list could discuss.

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24. milkshake on April 8, 2010 7:52 AM writes...

I noticed three old SUGEN compounds on the list: Sutent (new indications), SU14813 (Sutent follow on) for breast cancer in phase II and PF-2341066, the c-Met compound that also came from SUGEN-Pharmacia collaboration, in phase III for lung cancer. Given that SUGEN was nuked and paved over in summer 2003, I would say Pfizer has been pretty slow - maybe thats why they have full pipeline because the stuff lingers there... With this tempo they will be off-patent rather soon after the approval of their small molecule drugs. No wonder they became so enamored of biologics.

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25. Fred on April 8, 2010 7:57 AM writes...

What was that? Pfizer's Golden Years? Weren't they a pharmaceutical company at one time? That little blue pill....

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26. petros on April 8, 2010 8:56 AM writes...

Of the Pfizer originated compounds (ie not Wyeth ones) my impression:

axitinib pan-kinase for RCC, probably not a great prospect

figitumumab IGF-1 ab already had big problems

PF-2341066 c-met rapid progress to PIII

tanezumab NGF biological ?

PF-1228305 ETa antagonist acquired with Encysive, likely to fall foul of Orphan Drug status of approved ET ants.

tasocitinib JAK3 for RA, potentially huge but ???

Hardly justifies the hype I'd say

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27. RTW on April 8, 2010 9:19 AM writes...

24 Milkshake - I have to agree. Take a look at PF 299804. This one was selected back in I think about 7 years ago to promote into the pipeline as a followup to CI-1033. It was PD's third attempt at a pan ERB inhibitor so we knew a great deal about this sort of compound. A backup compound didn't make it into the clinic due to development problems and DMPK, followed 1033, and then finaly PF 299804 was promoted into clinical trials.

I personally saw pictures of the CI-1033's results on a woman taking it orally to treat skin cancer. You would not believe the before and after pictures. It was as though the leasons became little more than a light rash. This was back in 2002. I tell you It was very exciting to see this! PF 299804 was a much better compound. I knew the biologists well that where doing the mouse model screening and measuring the tumor growth delays... PF-299804 was the first cmpd that they had ever seen which the tumors shrank to being imeasurable, and after dosing stopped NEVER grew back! Even marketed drugs in this screening model show growth of the tumors again, and most never got the tumors small enough to not be measurable. These mice died of old age, not transgenic tumors. It was very exciting to see!

Unfortunately I think it likely these compounds are all languishing because they didn't come out of Sandwich, or Groton. I have close family friends that have lost loved ones at relatively young ages to cancer. I felt helpless knowing that things in discovery, and early clinical trials, some of which I was working on might have made a difference if only they had been available earlier!

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28. Fries With That? on April 8, 2010 11:34 AM writes...

Hi Barry,
Could you elaborate further on the FDA definition of cancer you mention?
I don't know much about that area and would be interested in a further explanation.

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29. Barry on April 8, 2010 5:45 PM writes...

re: Fries
According to the FDA in 2010, pancreatic cancer is an indication and breast cancer is an indication and colon cancer is an indication and lung cancer is an indication... If I have a new drug candidate that blocks e.g. Raf and I know that Raf mutants drive cancers in many tissues, I would have to run separate Clinical trials in each of the relevant tissues to get approval for those indications.

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30. milkshake on April 8, 2010 9:58 PM writes...

Oncologists can prescribe the drug off label but the company cannot promote it legally off label and the main problem is that the insurances are likely to refuse to cover such treatment as "experimental".

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31. Petros on April 9, 2010 7:40 AM writes...

RTW (#27) comments if they didn't come out of Sandwich or Groton.

What NCEs have come out of Groton in the past 15 years?

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32. Chemjobber on April 9, 2010 8:20 AM writes...

#31: Chantix?

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33. Anonymous on April 11, 2010 7:14 AM writes...

I don't think there is any Groton/Sandwich development conspiracy. Quite simply Pfizer is desperate for anything from anywhere. If a compound is languishing in the pipeline it will be because of development difficulties or because there is something good enough futher ahead.

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34. RandDChemist on April 12, 2010 10:10 AM writes...

The easy shots have been taken, so let's look at some other things.

1. One of the biggest barriers (if not the biggest) to true innovation and growth in pharma (big, small or anywhere in between) is internal politics.

2. How can it be a golden age when you bring in outside compounds (via merger, in-licensing or whatever) at a high level?

3. What is Pfizer going to do about employee motivation and morale?

4. Innovation is not easy, pretty or fun.

5. Remember the definition of insanity.

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