Let’s see, the Biz shot its right foot with the Vioxx debacle, then its left foot with Zyprexa (and others, but that’s a recent one), so now it must look for another site for further damage of its tattered n’ shattered image. Hmmm, how about lobbing off a couple of fingers? The FDA’s approval of Slentrol, Pfizer’s new chemical entity (NCE) for treatment of obese dogs ought to do the trick. Zing! There go the fingers.
As a minion of the dark overlords, I have to say that the announcement made me cringe for a number of reasons, the primary one being that this further solidifies the perception that “all drugs from pharma are for frivolous indications.” This past weekend, I visited a close friend, a sr. director of chemistry of a company in the Boston area, and we lamented this latest flappery not only for the bad PR, but also because of its sheer lack of necessity. After all, a typical American dog’s diet is in the control of its owner; likewise, so is its level of activity. Jeez, people. Just take the dog and yourself out for a walk.
The subject has been covered by other Science Bloggers. See effect measure, Corpus callosum, and Retrospectacle. I’ve already made my opinions on drugs for human obesity known (And now a word from obesity’s big fat corporate sponsor), but that won’t stop me from weighing in (har) on fat doggies and Pfizer’s strategy.
Now Shelley’s post in Retrospectacle is a fine screed, but if one is to speak of “the truth” regarding Pfizer’s NCE for canines, then the following “despite it seeming to fill an non-existent market” is not quite accurate.
In fact, fat dogs are an existing market, and given what Americans are willing to spend on their beloved pets, a very lucrative one. Pfizer’s marketing machine must have eyed the market hungrily. From the FDA press release
“This is a welcome addition to animal therapies, because dog obesity appears to be increasing,” said Stephen Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “Veterinarians are well aware that overweight pets are at a higher risk of developing various health problems, from cardiovascular conditions to diabetes to joint problems.”
Veterinarians generally define a dog that weighs 20 percent more than its ideal weight as obese. Surveys have found that approximately 5 percent of dogs in the United States are obese, and another 20-30 percent are overweight.
There are a lot of pet dogs in the United States. Even if the 61 million figure in the link is off by a hundred thousand or so, 5% of that is still a high number of portly pooches. That’s around 3 million fat and pampered dogs. Hence, “The Market.”
If Pfizer’s formidable marketing machine didn’t survey the landscape for possibility of profits, they would not be doing their job. Although the cost of developing Slentrol is less than that for an equivalent for humans (oh, those pesky clinical trials), it’s pretty darned unlikely they would have forged ahead if there was a “non-existent market.” I mean, look at the large number of people afflicted with malaria, dengue fever, and Chagas disease. The organisms which cause these diseases harbor potentially tasty targets for small molecule drugs, but in spite of the number of patients, there’s “no market,” i.e., a largely impoverished population of patients. They are deemed lower in priority than the many wealthy (relative to msot who have Chagas disease) pet owners who will buy into the ads. Contrast that with the American market which is more than willing to spend a lot of money on so-called “lifestyle drugs” for themselves. Yes, Big Pharma will eagerly expand markets beyond “need” through plenty of advertising and sales calls, but it does not createthe market. The fat dogs, fat people, slack willies, and balding pates (re: Propecia) of the American populace are the market for the drugs decried as “medically unnecessary.”.
It’s not only the patent expirations of Pfizer’s big sellers which have this behemoth of a company scrambling. Pfizer had high hopes for torcetrapib, the cholesterol ester transfer protein inhibitor, which was in line to replace Lipitor. Torcetrapib went belly-up in clinical trials. Derek Lowe covered this nicely in his article, The Torcetrapib Catastrophe. This is recommended…no, make that required reading. Anyway, so long, torcetrapib, hello Slentrol!
Who knows what all is in Pfizer’s early stage pipeline? Well, the Pfizer researchers know, and my best guess is that there probably are some genuinely innovative compounds moving ahead. Genomics actually has made an impact on drug discovery throughout the industry and has revealed new and exciting targets which are not “me too’s.” These may be new oncologics, antidiabetic meds, or kinder, gentler replacements for Geodon. However, it’s going to take a long time before these are realized, and a good number will drop out due to liabilities. That’s the nature of drug discovery and development. In the meantime, sales of Slentrol will feed back into R&D for these early stage programs. There are a lot of very smart scientists in drug discovery at Pfizer, and some are friends and former colleagues. As skeeved out as I am by Slentrol, its sales may help them continue with their research on innovations and may even help them retain their jobs.