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Manufacture Business Practice, Small Molecules, Trends & Forecasts

Hopes and Fears

There’s never a dull moment in the pharma industry, so never a shortage of great content. Progress (albeit slow in some areas) is relentless, with new research, technologies, and drugs – some truly revolutionary – emerging every year. Last year, two FDA approvals stand out: the US’s first two CAR-T therapies, Kymriah (Novartis) and Yescarta (Gilead), which offer hope to cancer patients with few options. Overall, 2017 was a fantastic year for both FDA and EMA drug approvals, with several new medicines being first in class. New molecular entities approved by the FDA hit 46 as of November 2017 – the highest number since 1996.

Cancer remains a priority, but what about other diseases that are in dire need of new treatments, such as Alzheimer’s? Unfortunately, 2018 has already started out on the wrong foot in that regard; earlier this month, Pfizer announced that it was ending its neuroscience discovery programs – axing around 300 jobs, as well as its work into Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Of course, from a business point of view it makes sense – the company has already spent billions on both diseases, without a single drug to show for it. Axovant Sciences, a biotech dedicated to neurological conditions, is also struggling with Alzheimer’s – the company’s lead drug candidate, intepirdine, failed a phase III trial in 2017, and the development program was subsequently scrapped.

The woes of Alzheimer’s drug development are well known – no new drugs have been approved in either Europe or the US in well over a decade – so perhaps it’s no surprise that so many companies have pulled the plug.

However, I’m reminded of an inspiring comment in our final issue of 2017 from Eric Weaver (University of Nebraska): “It may be impossible to make a universal vaccine for everyone [but that] should not be a limitation to the pursuit of new vaccine research.” Should we really give up on the quest for an Alzheimer’s treatment, even if it does feel like an insurmountable challenge?

In a recent column, Bart De Strooper, Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, suggested that it is time to move away from expensive phase III trials and look back at the biology of the disease with fresh eyes (1). Despite ditching its Alzheimer’s programs, Pfizer also indicates that earlier research is the way forward – and the company says it will launch a venture fund, specifically to invest in biotech companies with intriguing neuroscience research programs (2). So perhaps big pharma doesn’t give up that easily...

Stephanie Sutton

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  1. B De Strooper, “Dementia is too big a problem to walk away from – for Pfizer or any of us”, The Guardian (2018). Available at: Last accessed January 15, 2018.
  2. Pfizer, “Learn more about our neuroscience decision R&D decision”, (2018). Available at: Last accessed January 15, 2018.
About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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