Post-restructuring, Pfizer R&D focused on its top blockbuster prospects

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's president of worldwide R&D

Long before AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Merck ($MRK) set out to hack a billion dollars or more out of global R&D operations, Pfizer ($PFE) set the pace for research shock therapy with an effort that realigned therapeutic priorities, shed programs, shuttered facilities and demanded a much more careful pipeline strategy. But even as the pharma giant has declared the three-year R&D reorganization plan at an end, research chief Mikael Dolsten says it's very much a work in progress as the company scrambles to advance the hottest prospects which emerge.

"There is a committed strategic funding for each therapeutic area that gives them critical mass, and then we will move resources as we see the most successful projects need them," Dolsten told Reuters' senior pharma writer Ben Hirschler. "In the near-term, we see oncology, vaccines and immunology as three very strong areas ... if great projects arrive, like palbociclib in breast cancer, then we will fund those projects appropriately."

The top-prospect school of R&D thinking--a rejection of a discredited effort at industrializing innovation--has taken firm hold of the entire industry. That was clear as Merck's new R&D chief Roger Perlmutter quickly seized on their cancer immunotherapy program for MK-3475, carefully setting it up for a star role as the company sets out to engineer big changes in its research group.

A single major blockbuster can go a long way to finding forgiveness among investors for a hundred smaller sins of execution. And the emphasis now is finding those stars and devoting substantial resources and special teams to hustle them along.

Palbociclib, though, has been earning some mixed reviews among analysts, a number of whom have projected peak sales at everything from $1 billion to $5 billion on the sell side. Reuters also highlights a program Pfizer has in place for a new pain drug to treat rare cases of erythromelalgia, putting it in a very popular R&D arena for orphan drugs.

Coming off an R&D upheaval and a string of new approvals, Pfizer has earned some much-needed respect for its R&D efforts. But when you're still budgeting close to $7 billion a year for research, there will always be high expectations on productivity, year in and year out.

- here's the Reuters story

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