“…The big drug company Pfizer seems intent on being a pace-setter in cranking out the benefits of the tax cut to stakeholders who need them the least. In an announcement over the weekend, Pfizer said it was shutting down its research efforts on treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism. The company didn’t say how much it was spending on the two conditions, but said about 300 researchers will lose their jobs as it redirects its research and development budget elsewhere.
“‘Pfizer routinely reviews its R&D pipeline,’ the company said in its formal statement of the change. It said it was continuing its R&D programs for the drugs tanezumab and Lyrica. That’s a bit of non sequitur, since the first is a treatment for chronic pain from osteoporosis and other conditions and the latter is a drug for nerve pain caused by diabetes, shingles and spinal cord injury and is an anti-seizure medication for epilepsy patients. They do both fall within the neurology field, however, which also encompasses Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Pfizer’s announcement dismayed advocates for victims of central nervous system diseases, which have presented researchers with some of the most intractable challenges in the healthcare field.
“‘It’s really alarming to see such a large pharmaceutical company deciding to abandon research into the brain and central nervous system,’ James Beck, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, told me Monday. ‘It’s telling for how difficult it is to do research into neurodegenerative diseases.’ Of even greater concern, he said, is that ‘having Pfizer exit does not augur well for what other companies are likely to do.’
“Pfizer’s move also raises questions about what role Big Pharma should play in drug R&D, especially for conditions without known treatments or those with relatively few sufferers.
“Research into these two diseases is about as risky as one could imagine, since no treatment thus far has been shown to have any promise in curing either disease or averting its onset; some drugs may delay symptoms for up to a year or temporarily alleviate symptoms, but patient advocates consider those to be modest advances at best.
“On the other hand, an Alzheimer’s cure would be the very definition of a blockbuster drug, since 5.5 million Americans are known to suffer from the disease and the patient base is expected to expand markedly as the population ages. Parkinson’s afflicts about 1 million Americans, the Parkinson’s Foundation says…
“Pfizer is expected to be among the prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut. The measure allows companies to pay a tax rate as low as 8% on foreign earnings they bring home, a big discount from the 21% top rate the law assesses on domestic earnings, itself a big cut from the previous rate of 35%. By some estimates, that could be worth more than $5 billion to Pfizer alone, not counting any gains from the lower tax rate.
“As it happens, Pfizer signaled how it would apply the tax savings even before the final passage of the tax bill: The company announced a $10-billion share buyback on Dec. 18, four days before President Trump signed the tax cut into law. That buyback was on top of $6.4 billion left to be spent from a previous buyback plan, and was accompanied by a 6% increase in the company’s stock dividend, which will be worth roughly another half-billion dollars a year...
“What’s most discouraging to patient advocates is the dearth of alternatives to big pharmaceutical companies in brain research. Pfizer’s withdrawal, especially if it prompts other big pharma companies to flee the field, places more of the burden on small biotech firms, academia, foundations and government. The news ‘reinforces the urgent need for additional federal investment in Alzheimer’s research,’ a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America told me. But the Trump administration has placed funding for government research projects in almost all scientific fields on the chopping block…” (Pfizer, pocketing a big tax cut from Trump, will end investment in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's research by Michael Hiltzik).