Pfizer kicks newly acquired meds out of Arena as part of midstage cleaning

Pfizer has taken the broom to three midstage medicines from the acquisition of Arena Pharmaceuticals, deciding that etrasimod alone was worthy of the biotech’s $6.7 billion price tag.

The pharma disclosed Tuesday that it was canning Arena therapies temanogrel and APD418, the latter of which has FDA fast-track designation. Pfizer also formally axed PF-06480605, a biologic to treat ulcerative colitis, and RIST472, which Arena had been working on in conjunction with Aristea Therapeutics since July 2021. 

Aristea dissolved in February after suddenly announcing it was ending the development of the asset to “protect patient safety.” Arista had been developing the drug as a treatment for two separate skin conditions, palmoplantar pustulosis and hidradenitis suppurativa. All the treatments that Pfizer elected to discontinue were in phase 2 development. 

The decision to skip other projects that Arena arrived with means that Pfizer is pushing all of its chips toward etrasimod, an inflammatory pipeline in and of itself. The med is currently in development for five diseases, with an approval application for ulcerative colitis under review by U.S. and European regulators.

Pfizer scooped up Arena for $6.7 billion in December 2021, the start of an aggressive acquisition spree that’s included Global Blood Therapeutics, Biohaven and, of course, Seagen. Pfizer said on Tuesday’s earnings call that nonetheless, it remains “active in the M&A market.” 

“Having said that, in the near term, those will probably be smaller, little tuck-in type deals, given our leverage ratio on the very near term,” said Chief Financial Officer David Denton during the call. 

The pipeline trimmings come as adjusted R&D spending in the quarter ticked up to $2.5 billion,10% higher than the first quarter of 2022. Pfizer attributed the gain in part to “increased investments to develop recently acquired assets and certain vaccine programs.”

After several years of COVID dominating nearly all corners of Pfizer’s vaccine efforts, the company is gearing up for the launch of its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) candidate in older adults. The FDA is slated to decide on Pfizer’s approval application by the end of May. But that age group is just the start, with an additional approval for a maternal RSV candidate expected by the end of the year. Pfizer is in close competition with GSK for the older age group, the latter of which has a similar deadline from regulators but earlier in May. 

Executives also addressed investors’ questions about Pfizer's GLP-1 ambitions, the scorching hot target that’s shifting the treatment landscape in obesity and diabetes. The New York pharma is developing danuglipron and lotiglipron in phase 2 for both indications.

Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., said the roughly 15% reduction in weight loss that Lilly recently reported for Mounjaro in obese patients with diabetes is a good benchmark. “We think it's feasible with orals, and we think that will open up a very large place, and we think that pending data readout, that we may have a differentiated profile,” he said.