Pharma company squelched potentially useful R&D data from prior blockbuster drug

When certain all pharma companies make the decision to place all of its marketing and development muscle behind a potential blockbuster drug, ancillary scientific data that may show research promise in other realms may be encountered. What to do about that data? Well, if it doesn’t factor in to the overall strategy for said potential blockbuster, you just bury it.

A team of researchers inside Pfizer made a startling find in 2015: The company’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis therapy Enbrel, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug, appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 64 percent.

The company said it decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue. A synopsis of its statistical findings prepared for outside publication, it said, did not meet its “rigorous scientific standards.” It said publishing the information might have led outside scientists down an invalid pathway. Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward, spokesman Ed Harnaga said.

Some outside scientists disagree with Pfizer’s assessment that studying Enbrel’s potential in Alzheimer’s prevention is a scientific dead end. Rather, they say, it could hold important clues to combating the disease and slowing cognitive decline in its earliest stages.

Dementia research remains the most costly, low yielding sector in pharma research.

Michael L. Douglas @doctorpundit

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