Pfizer faces bumps in road with potential blockbuster RA pill

Pfizer ($PFE) has highlighted its experimental rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pill tofacitinib among the standouts in its pipeline, but a new survey shows that some doctors and payers might not share the pharma giant's exuberance about the program. And many rheumatologists have doubts about whether they would prescribe the pill over existing injectable biologics, Pharmalot reports.

If Pfizer gets the green light to sell the RA pill, the company could hit the blockbuster RA market with a price for tofacitinib that trumps those of the injected drugs that companies such as Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) and Amgen ($AMGN) sell. Payers, of course, would likely warm up to a cheaper option than the already pricey injected RA meds.  

Citing a recent survey of docs and payers, Pharmalot's Ed Silverman writes that 55% of rheumatologists surveyed would balk at prescribing tofacitinib over the injected meds, with some of the docs unconvinced that existing safety and efficacy data support the switch. Not surprisingly, 96% of cost-conscious payers weren't willing to make the switch to the oral drug.

Even during the development phase, pharma companies are as aware as ever of the commercial realities ahead for their experimental drugs. In response to resistant insurers and government payers, developers have been talking up the need to conduct trials that provide evidence that their drugs deliver new benefits for patients and, in some cases, come packaged with data that show the meds are better than the old ones.

Pfizer has offered up data showing that the efficacy of its RA pill is on par with the injected remedies. Yet even though the pill would give some patients a more convenient option than injecting drugs against RA, cash-strapped payers have made it clear that the improvements in treating diseases often have to be part of a package to gain reimbursements.

That said, Silverman writes that 60% of payers surveyed and 85% of rheumatologists had an overall positive impression of Pfizer's RA pill. The trick, if regulators stamp approvals on the drug, will be getting the docs to write scripts and the payers to prove reimbursements.  

- read Silverman's article