Pfizer Stops Developing Hepatitis C Drug, Cites Strategic Review

  • Friday, March 8, 2013
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Pfizer Stops Developing Hepatitis C Drug, Cites Strategic Review

Pfizer Inc. (PFE) has stopped development of an experimental hepatitis C drug, bowing out of a hotly contested industry race to introduce the next generation of treatments for the infectious liver disease.

The New York-based drug giant decided to discontinue development of PF-00868554, also known as filibuvir, following a strategic review, said spokeswoman Victoria Davis. She said the decision wasn't related to any safety issues.

The drug was in mid-stage clinical testing, further behind in development than potential new hepatitis C treatments from Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) and AbbVie Inc. (ABBV), which are generally regarded as leading the charge to tap into a multibillion-dollar market for the new drugs.

"We continue to prioritize our [research and development] capital allocation to drive the next wave of innovative medicines and vaccines that bring benefit to patients and value to health care systems around the world," Ms. Davis said.

Few analysts expected Pfizer's hepatitis C drug to be a major sales driver in coming years, so the decision to drop it isn't a major setback for the company.

But the move illustrates the rapid changes in the hepatitis C treatment field. A few years ago, Pfizer's drug was on roughly equal footing with other similar drugs in development throughout the industry. But over the past two years, rivals including Gilead and AbbVie have shot to the forefront with drugs showing impressive cure rates and other potential advantages over current standard treatment in clinical trials.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has cut its R&D spending and narrowed the focus of its research efforts to other therapeutic areas, including neuroscience and oncology.

Filibuvir is known as a non-nucleoside polymerase inhibitor, a class of drugs designed to help eradicate the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is a liver-attacking virus estimated to infect up to four million Americans.

The Pfizer drug is in the same drug category as one of the drugs in AbbVie's potential new hepatitis C regimen. AbbVie is conducting late-stage clinical trials of the regimen, and has said it could reach the market in 2015. Gilead's lead regimen, centered on a drug in a different category, could enter the market by early 2014.

The current standard of care for hepatitis C is a multidrug regimen that can cure patients. But it includes an injected drug, interferon, that is difficult for some patients to tolerate because it has side effects such as flu-like symptoms.

The potential new regimens would be all-oral, eliminating interferon and potentially mitigating side effects and shortening the duration of treatment.

-Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@dowjones.com

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