In a controversial pharmaceutical story, this week the Washington Post reported “that Pfizer had evidence that [their drug] Enbrel could be useful in Alzheimer’s disease, and didn’t do anything with it,” according to a blog post from Science magazine:
This came from an analysis of insurance claim data: a set of about 127,000 patients with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and a set of 127,000 without. It turns out that more people in the second group had been treated with Enbrel (302 patients) versus the first (110 patients). The Post obtained internal Pfizer documents discussing this and whether it was worth further investigation, and the company had concluded it wasn’t.
Why wouldn’t they? Several reasons. The biggest, though, is that no one undertakes an Alzheimer’s trial lightly. The clinical success rate for Alzheimer’s trials is arguably zero per cent… The article does note that Pfizer was getting out of Alzheimer’s in general at the time (2015), but it also explicitly makes clear that Enbrel was nearing the end of its patent lifetime and brings up the idea that Pfizer deliberately took a pass because they weren’t going to reap as much profit. Well, you’ll have to trust me on this, it’s a little out there, but drug companies don’t generally walk away from big profits if they can help it. I’ve had my problems with Pfizer over the years, but I have never called into question their ability to make money. If Pfizer really thought that this was a promising lead into an Alzheimer’s therapy, they would have found a way to turn a profit off of it.
The blogger also argues that Pfizer’s data represented “a noticeable-but-small signal, and by itself (I cannot state this strongly enough), it would not be enough for anyone to launch an Alzheimer’s trial.”