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Cutbacks at Pfizer

The word is that Pfizer has decided to exit neuroscience completely. I’m told there there are many layoffs involved, although the company itself does not seem to have made any announcement. That’s an important therapeutic area at a very big organization, so this is something to think about. The company seems to be making a strong statement about the likelihood of success in these projects, and it’s not a comforting one.

Similarly, I have from two sources that the Pfizer site in Andover (MA) is seeing big cuts in their Drug Safety and Metabolism department. More details on these as things become clearer (some may show up in the comments).

71 comments on “Cutbacks at Pfizer”

  1. PharmaHeretic says:

    I thought Pfizer had already laid off everyone working for their R&D divisions by now. Who requires R&D when you can buy up other smaller companies, sell their products and fire all their employees. Also, it is quite easy to maintain ‘spreadsheet profitability by yearly increases in drug prices and other ‘legal’ shenanigans which require bribing.. I mean lobbying legislators and these so-called regulatory agencies.

    1. Anon says:

      Valeant already tried that model, and it didn’t work out too well for them. Not surprisingly, it turns out that you don’t create much (any) value simply by financial engineering, buying and selling assets at fair market price, without doing any innovation.

      1. Duane Schulthess says:

        “Valeant already tried that model, and it didn’t work out too well for them”

        Gilead and Shire would disagree with you. Also, Alzheimer’s now is 247 failures in a row post Biogen’s recent bad news. Maybe spreading money around in many different approaches is a better move long term? What everyone has been doing in ABeta surely hasn’t been working.

    2. Pharmacist says:

      You’ll thank God that research based companies like Pfizer continue to spend heavily in R&D especially if they come up w a cure for a disease you or a family member have.
      Drug cost is a separate issue and involves many more players than just the Drug Co’s.
      Additionally just buying another Co for its pipeline is not as cheap as it once was as everyone is doing it.

      1. Billy says:

        I’d thank god if he had created us more intelligently without disease. Hopefully you’ll read in the intended sarcasm. In the meantime, I’ll thank all the scientists who work to “fix” all of god’s mistakes.

        1. Pamala says:

          I’m just curious, what “mistakes” did God make? He gave man freewill and we continuously exercise that freedom by making a lot of poor choices…(it’s all about the money)

      2. Kate says: might want to check your facts. It was proven that big pharma has been lying for years about their investment in R&D! They pocketed much of the money they claimed they’d invested in R&D.

    3. Sangfroidjack says:

      Pfizer may be under investigation for a major clinical trial disaster .

  2. Anone says:

    Pfizer is waiting for someone else to make the big discoveries in neuro then will just buy their way back in. Along side 10bn in stock buybacks and increasing dividends. Thanks trump

    1. Emjeff says:

      This reflexive “Blame Trump” weakens your credibility. I find it hard to blame a company for exiting this field, knowing the abysmal approval record and the terrible reimbursement environment. I guess it’s easier to blame the all-powerful President than to think critically about the issues…

      1. Pepe says:

        O great the Russian bots post here now too 🤖

      2. Bagger Vance says:

        Yes, welcome to current year, where any measured statement about the US President is considered the work of a “Russian Bot”

        good job, “Pepe”

        1. La Peax says:

          Definition of measured is the distance you have your head up your a**.

        2. Derek Lowe says:

          You know, much as I hate to say it, I agree. I yield to very few people in my contempt for Trump, but at the same time, he can’t be blamed for everything (or at least not yet).

          1. Hap says:

            Pfizer was a zombie long before Trump showed up to the party. Blaming Trump for the general lack of willingness of pharma to invest in their businesses seems wrong. Blaming Pfizer, on the other hand (who destroyed many productive companies to become what they are and keeps management who can’t either figure out what to do with their companies to make money or won’t get out when they believe they can’t make money) for their own unwillingness to do so seems less bogus.

          2. Anonymous Researcher snaw says:

            Yeah, I agree, Trump has very ittle to do with this. Both the troubles with Pfizer’s strategy and the huge difficulties for Neuroscience were already obvious to me when Bush was President. There is much for which Trump can legitimately be criticized, to say the least, but please let’s avoid dragging him into this discussion!

          3. stable chemist says:

            Trump is not responsible for the challenges in CNS drug discovery.

            On the other hand, he is responsible for the new tax law recently signed by him. He could have chosen to allow companies to bring back offshore money only if it was to be invested in research and not for stock buybacks, for example.
            This would protect both USA jobs and our health.

        3. says:

          I think this thread demonstrates the need for new antipsychotics…. 🤦‍♂️

      3. Dr CNS says:

        Right… so, for those deciding to stay and delivering treatments that make a difference to patients it will be reasonable to charge $100K/year, obviously.
        After all, they are taking a majot business risk…

    2. NJBiologist says:

      If Pfizer was the first company to exit CNS, it would be easy to describe it as a change and look for a recent trigger–but they’re not the first.

  3. Eric says:

    It’s easy to make snide comments (it is Pfizer after all) but one does have to wonder whether neuroscience research is a good investment for pharma. The truth is we have horrible models to predict clinical success. In many cases we also have at best a rudimentary understanding of the physiology. I realize it’s high unmet medical need which is what we’d like to be focused on, but how much money are companies willing to spend on such high risk research? How much should they be willing to spend? I don’t know the answers but I know that if I were on the financial side of the industry it would be a difficult decision.

    1. Wavefunction says:

      I agree. It’s academia that should really be focused on understanding the biochemistry and physiology or diseases like AD and Parkinson’s in depth before industry can make a dent in them. Unfortunately academia also gets biased by its blinkers, as witnessed by the decades-long embrace of the amyloid hypothesis. Throw in anti-intellectual politicians and a shrinking budget and neuroscience drug discovery sadly doesn’t look good.

      1. luysii says:

        But the “understanding the biochemistry and physiology or diseases like AD and Parkinson’s in depth” is what PRODUCED the amyloid hypothesis. New work (to be described in a few days) actually points to the inclusions of two diseases as being defensive and a marker of pathology rather than its cause.

        1. Wavefunction says:

          It produced the amyloid hypothesis as on *observable*: deciding that it was a *causal* factor was more a result of wishful thinking and herd mentality. It wasn’t entirely unreasonable, of course, but people clung to it long after they should have started exploring alternative hypotheses.

      2. dearieme says:

        “Throw in anti-intellectual politicians …”: fair point. But anti-intellectual scientists worry me more.

        1. Hap says:

          Anti-intellectual scientists, though, generally can’t nuke other countries or your economy (and it generally takes a lot of them rather than just a few).

          Having to deal with actual results should lower the tendency for people to believe their own lies, since results are required to do so. Politicians, on the other hand, do not appear to be aware of such a constraint, and since their voters aren’t either….

      3. MoMo says:

        Don’t forget that those academics are/were funded by the Welfare State known as the NIH. Billions wasted.

        Its why we cant have nice things/ effective drugs.

        1. BigFreddie says:

          ??? Others may not rise to the bait but….Steve Rosenberg seems to have patiently and honestly turned NIH support into a “potentially 250 billion dollar” last chance therapeutics industry. Yeah…we all get frustrated looking at CVs listing tens of millions of dollars of grant support over twenty years with single digit citation rates to show for it…but you need to think politics rather than welfare if you want to whine about that….and…nothing blows through money like an SVP with a beloved model and rotating CEO…corporate welfare of this type destroys more potential discovery than ten inbred NIH panels. Happy trolling, trollina:-)

    2. happytobebackinoncology says:

      agree. having worked on a number of CNS failures it doesn’t surprise me to see pfizer opt-out.

      1. Dr CNS says:

        Actually, the probability of success Ph 1 to approval is quoted to be greater for non-oncology (11.9%) vs oncology (5.1%) diseases.
        For Ph III success, Neurology (57%) and Psychiatry (56%) are significantly larger than oncology (40%).
        Likelihood of approval: Oncology is the lowest at 5.1%. Neurology (8.4%) and Psychiatry (6.2%) are larger.

        Source: Clinical Development Success Rates 2006-2015 (June 2016) (google for a free pdf)

  4. Magrinho says:

    I am sincerely sorry to see good people lose their jobs.

    Pfizer can do no right but it is probably a good decision in this instance. Neuroscience drug discovery is a money pit.

    1. Not ha ha Pfunny says:

      I concur. The people in Cambridge were nicely jerked around when they were told they had to uproot their families from Groton and move to Alewife with the idea they would again have to move their labs from Alewife to Kendall square after a couple years. Imagine trying to do research in a perpetual state of construction for a number of years. At least they are being unleashed into the Cambridge job market and not the Groton job market. Maybe that was the plan all along.

  5. Canadian Chemist says:

    Neuroscience is gone from Pfizer’s Therapeutic Areas webpage:

  6. John Wayne says:

    I, for one, am quite sad another company has left CNS. One of these bigger companies with terrible management and incredible hubris will eventually stumble into something that actually moves the needle.; Pfizer was one of the ones qualified for the job.

  7. anon the II says:

    So, I’m thinking this CNS drug discovery isn’t so much a technical problem as a policy problem. The biggest problem with CNS discovery is that the models suck and we don’t have a clue what those mice or rats are thinking or feeling. We actually have to put these drugs in people to figure out what’s going on. Well, if I remember, there was a J Med Chem article back in the early 70’s where they did just that. They, not a big pharma, made some compounds and ate them and reported what they did. I think this kind of thing happened a lot back then at some of those super competitive west coast liberal arts colleges. And then we went and outlawed that kind of thing.

    I’m thinking, maybe in the spirit of deregulation currently in Washington, we should get rid of some of those laws so that the home grown CNS drug discovery would again flourish. It’s just a thought. What do you think?

    1. Diver Dude says:

      The tradition of clinical pharmacologists sampling new CNS NCEs prior to the FIM study persisted into the ’90s to my certain and personal knowledge. How else are you supposed to know if you need to taste-mask the active and placebo to preserve the blind? I’d like to think the practice still goes on. I remember (not very clearly) combining a novel antidepressant with alcohol to check the proposed interaction study doses. After I woke up, we halved both.

      1. “I remember (not very clearly) combining a novel antidepressant with alcohol to check the proposed interaction study doses. After I woke up, we halved both.”


      2. Nick K says:

        I greatly admire your fortitude and commitment.

      3. Leonard Khiroug says:

        Awesome! That’s the way a true scientist should test drugs!

  8. drsnowboard says:

    OK, so I’m neither a Trump nor a Pfizer fan, mainly due to the arrogance associated with both.
    But it seems to me you can’t simultaneously claim the US economic uptick is nothing to do with him due to the natural time lag of the economy AND blame him for influencing Pfizer to make an exit decision like this.
    My thoughts are with scientists affected by the move, though those that can segue into the VC funded sector may find it refreshingly liberating. Just please don’t keep quoting the Pfizer mantras , it will hold you back.

    1. Annoned says:

      Is there really much of an economic uptick in the US?
      In the eastern PA-NJ-NYC area there seems to be more job seekers than jobs. Over a thousand people showed up for jobs at a new Amazon warehouse and the few jobs in Pharma are filled quickly. There are areas with many empty foreclosed houses. Where is this economic uptick?

  9. Schuykill Sam says:

    Although I think a fair question to ask is whether the layoffs were triggered by the new tax code. Ian Read was quite vocal in his support of revising the corporate tax.


    1. Kitty Coleman says:

      Newsweek seems to think so: Pfizer is set to win big from the tax overhaul, but they’re passing the money on to investors instead of funding research and development. The company plans to spend about $10 billion buying back shares of its own stock, adding to the $6.4 billion it previously greenlit. It will also increase its dividend rate by six percent to 34 cents per share. That money could fund multiple clinical trials.

  10. Mr Creosote says:

    Just in time for GSK to move neuroscience to the states.

    1. SRT2104 says:

      You rang?

  11. Andy II says:

    And, people will start a company with one of the CNS pipeline candidates and make money. As you all remember this type of business model nowadays. This is another great opportunity for startup to some people.

  12. milkshaken says:

    I think it not just “a strong statement about the likelihood of success in these projects” but also about the development cost/profit ratio analysis: With a cancer medication you can charge the insurance 10 thousand USD a month, and the drug does not have to be too safe, and the clinical trials can be much smaller and shorter.

  13. steve says:

    Maybe I’m just missing something but isn’t the problem simply that they haven’t been able to mount an effective research effort addressing peroxynitrites????

    1. Drug Developer says:

      Oh, that’s not nice…

      On a separate note, to those trying to connect this Pfizer action with politics or the economy in general — it’s quite likely Pfizer will keep total R&D spend the same, just moving it to other areas it deems more likely to produce results. Apples/oranges.

      1. Hap says:

        I don’t know…I imagine they would likely hire younger (and likely cheaper) chemists to replace what they laid off, or use CROs to do the work in whatever they invest their R+D money in (or use academics or small companies). It’s not certain that the R+D pie will remain the same (I guess it could get bigger, but considering the stock buyback announcement when the tax bill passed, that seems unlikely).

    2. Lane Simonian says:

      Actually, several other researchers have with considerable success. The longest and largest clinical trials which involved the use of Korean red ginseng and several herbs including panax ginseng produced the following results:

      “A 24-week randomized open-label study with Korean red ginseng (KRG) showed cognitive benefits in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. To further determine long-term effect of KRG, the subjects were recruited to be followed up to 2 yr. Cognitive function was evaluated every 12 wk using the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS) and the Korean version of the Mini Mental Status Examination (K-MMSE) with the maintaining dose of 4.5 g or 9.0 g KRG per d. At 24 wk, there had been a significant improvement in KRG-treated groups. In the long-term evaluation of the efficacy of KRG after 24 wk, the improved MMSE score remained without significant decline at the 48th and 96th wk. ADAS-cog showed similar findings. Maximum improvement was found around week 24. In conclusion, the effect of KRG on cognitive functions was sustained for 2 yr follow-up, indicating feasible efficacies of long-term follow-up for Alzheimers disease.”

      “Compared to CT [conventional therapy] alone, CT + H [herbs] significantly benefited AD patients. A symptomatic effect of CT + H was more pronounced with time. Cognitive decline was substantially decelerated in patients with moderate severity, while the cognitive function was largely stabilized in patients with mild severity over two years. These results imply that Chinese herbal medicines may provide an alternative and additive treatment for AD.”

      I am not sure which is worse continuing to pursue treatments based on a failed hypothesis or not pursuing treatments that have been relatively effective based on a better hypothesis (that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by nitro-oxidative stress).

      1. Me says:

        2 words:

        OPEN LABEL

  14. JB says:

    On a side note – looks like it is gonna get a whole heckuva lot harder to translate CRISPR-CAS9 than we originally thought:

  15. Me says:


    The Big Pharma Clusterf**k continues. Thoughts with the scientists and their families.

    Hopefully something good comes of this: When GSK shut down their neuroscience, a couple of the spin-offs did quite well and are still employing chemists to this day – hope this occurs at PFE.

    1. Petros says:

      Well Convergence did nicely for a while and was picked up by Biogen for $200m+ in 2015 but the scientists lost out when Biogen elected to close the (small) R&D site at Babraham

  16. Dave says:

    As long as this has gotten a bit off the subject, I have a question perhaps y’all know the answer to. It has long been the belief of Americans that American’s pay the bulk of the cost of research in the drug industry. The proof is supposed to be that drugs cost a lot more in the US than anywhere else. I wonder if this widely held belief is actually true. Anyone?

    1. NMH says:

      We have large government agencies (like Medicare, section D) that cannot negotiaite the price of drugs with drug companies. If you believe this constitutes a large fraction of drug company purchases, then I guess this means that the taxpayer does subsidize the industry to some degree.

      What I will be curious to see if the Republicans will be willing to eliminate this law, and allow Medicare to negoitate prices. They cynic in me says probably not.

      1. Me says:

        You mean Trump do something about ‘rip off drug prices’?

      2. Emjeff says:

        This is not true – the government is required to negotiate. The verb “negotiate” is the key here – other countries tell companies how much they will pay, and if the company doesn’t like and attempts to pull the drug in question from that country, said country will often invalidate that company’s patent.

        1. neil says:

          Can you give an example where reimbursement by a Government funding body has not been forthcoming, the supplier has threatened to remove the product, AND the Government has failed to uphold the patent? Thanks

          1. Me says:

            Not sure where that happens – it certainly doesn’t happen in the EU. If the govt healthcare doesn’t reimburse the drug, it is only available for private prescription. Most companies don’t even bother marketing it in a country in that case. But the EU is not the world, although I’d be interested to hear about this practice if it was from an OECD country, or a G20 economy.

      3. johnnyboy says:

        Why would republicans eliminate it ? They’re the ones who passed it in the first place.

  17. Former pfizer lab worker says:

    They would be doing their employees a favor. The scientists at pfizer are some of the most serpentine human garbage i have ever met.

    1. NMH says:

      were you in LaJolla?

    2. I.P. Nitley says:

      Name a place that isn’t like that

    3. Pfizer Joe says:

      Its not the scientists -its the managers

  18. Big P says:

    Pfizer does not just lay you off if you work at pfizer, they even lay you off if you dont work at pfizer. Happened to me. I did a ton of work for them during my Phd, asked them what was up during my postdoc, and they proceeded to pressure my NIH funded boss to terminate me or else.

  19. Pfizer Joe says:

    Company was not innovative in this area -they would take a piece from this company and another from that company- out them together and guess what a me too compound. And then they give a prize to the chemists! Feel sorry for those who get chopped but Pfizer is known for this – Working in Groton is a death trap.

  20. captcha says:

    Wait…does this mean CNS MPO doesn’t work?

  21. Pfizered says:

    Pfizer cuts today. ~15% across the board

  22. ThatOne says:

    Pfizer screwed my husband when they bought out Hospira. Bad attitude towards Pfizer no matter what they do now. After 29 years of hard a$& work he lost all retirement benefits, all vacation time…. it happens to way too many hard working people nowadays. And that is why people go on shooting sprees.

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