Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pfizer Abandons Antibiotics R&D in China!

You read it here first!  I first reported Pfizer’s exit from antibiotics R&D back in February of this year. In that report, I noted that they claimed they were moving their antibiotic discovery effort to China  I also expressed doubts that they would ever be able to do that.  I have a source that tells me that they have now announced (at least internally) that they are cancelling their plans (such as they were) to establish antibiotic discovery in China. They still claim that they will continue to pursue what antibiotics they have in development.  I seriously doubt they will be successful there either. My doubts around Pfizer’s confused efforts in the antibiotic arena are based on the following –

  • 1.     In firing everyone in their US-based discovery group, they lost all their internal scientific expertise.
  • 2.     Antibiotics expertise, including everything from basic science to clinical microbiology to animal model expertise, is required throughout the development process and throughout the period of marketing.  With the loss of this internal expertise, Pfizer is lost.
  • 3.     To come to intelligent decision on in-licensing antibiotics, you still need the expertise that Pfizer no longer has.
  • 4.     To establish a new group in China, Pfizer needed to hire a scientific leader.  They approached me for recommendations for people to lead the group.  I pointed out that NO ONE in the antibiotic area who knows anything about Pfizer’s history of firing their most valued people would ever trust Pfizer enough to want to work for them. I also noted that they had an opportunity to offer that job to the very talented people they fired earlier this year – an opportunity they ignored.  Who would work for a company like that?

So, I get to say “I told you so” on their failure in China, but I also predict that they will never be able to successfully develop whatever assets they want to move forward since they have lost virtually all their internal expertise.  When Wyeth moved out of antibiotic R&D, they at least had the sense to retain a small core of scientists to support the ongoing development and later marketing of tigecycline.  Pfizer appears not to even have that much foresight – or they just don’t care.

It is all very interesting because I occasionally hear from clients that Pfizer business folks want to talk to them about whatever antibiotic the client may have in various stages of development. But I always warn them that they should take these approaches with a large grain of salt since I doubt, for the reasons noted above, whether Pfizer can even intelligently evaluate an antibiotic in-licensing opportunity.  So far, I have been correct in this assessment.

Of course, this is an incredibly sad state of affairs.  When the world’s largest pharmaceutical company is so incompetent that they bungle their exit from a deprioritized area to this extent, it brings into question the entire management of the company.  I also lament Pfizer’s exit from antibiotics R&D since it is just one less large pharmaceutical company in the fight against resistant infections and it is an additional large number of unemployed microbiologists with industry experience looking for work. Finally, I fear that there will be more competition in the consulting business! 


  1. Hi David,
    Very nice post. Somehow it is clear that the situation is getting dramatic and we are doing our best.
    My best
    José Bengoechea

  2. Karen Bush, ex-Squibb, Wyeth, Astra, J&J and now at Indiana U. - asked me to post the following for her -

    Your blog about Pfizer is quite on target. At ICAAC I had heard a rumor that the China connection wasn’t going to happen. I’m glad you have it out there in the open now.
    Your comments about people in the future (not) wanting to work for Pfizer is reality. If someone is desperate enough to accept a leadership role in anti-infectives, they should walk in with the expectation that it would probably be a transient position, and should keep their CV up-to-date.