Pfizer has announced its plan to end research into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. As a result, the company expects to eliminate 300 positions in the neuroscience discovery and early development programs. The positions that will be eliminated are sourced from Andover, MA, Cambridge, MA, and Groton, CT.
Pfizer plans to continue its research and development into tanezumab, a new treatment for osteoporosis and joint pain. Pfizer also announced that funding of Lyrica, a popular fibromyalgia treatment, will not be affected. The rare diseases program will remain unaffected as well.
In an emailed statement, Pfizer has stated that it plans to use the reallocate funds to reinforce funding to researching areas where Pfizer has larger scientific leadership in an effort to impact the greatest number of patients. Skeptics, however, are claiming that Pfizer had other reasons for this cutback.
This announcement comes on the backdrop of a large tax cut granted to many of the largest American corporations. Rather than using the new funds to increase employee wages or expand research, Pfizer seems to be putting funds back in their shareholder’s pockets.
The withdrawal from neurological research will have implications far past the economic. By cutting research, Pfizer is adding to the damaging public mentality that these neurological diseases are untreatable, and research at this point is fruitless. This change affects another region of public perception: it will inevitably reinforce the thought that big pharmaceuticals are more interested in economic gain than patient wellbeing.
Pfizer has a long history of investment into neurological research. Pfizer is part of the Dementia Discovery Fund, a fund backed by industry leaders and government groups since 2015 for Alzheimer’s research. Setbacks in recent research, however, may have demoralised Pfizer’s executive team. The promising new drug bapineuzumab, founded from a partnership between Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, failed on its second round of clinical trials. Additional research into this drug was called off.
This fund reallocation is surprising against the backdrop of drastically increased funds going into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research worldwide. With an economic burden estimated around $818 billion worldwide and an estimated 82 million cases of dementia worldwide, Pfizer’s withdrawal is being highly criticized. Even though a hallmark drug has not yet been produced, the global spending into dementia research has certainly not been for naught—this research has led to a much deeper understanding of the brain, our most mysterious and misunderstood organ.
The Alzheimer’s Society has stated that the decision to limit neurological research is “disappointing” and as a “heavy blow” to those hopeful—and desperate—for a cure. While Pfizer has withdrawn its funding, there is still much reason to hope. There are still over 100 clinical trials in the works for dementia treatments worldwide. Many pharmaceutical companies, including, Janssen, Novartis Biogen, Eli Lilly and AbbVie, remain as dedicated as ever to developing a cure. More and more research universities are turning their attention towards dementia research, creating an unpresented understanding of the basic science of the disease.
While Pfizer’s withdraw from dementia research is disheartening, it’s far from a sign of hopelessness.