Pfizer expands in inhaled drugs as Nektar cuts back

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pfizer Chief executive officer

Pfizer's announcement of plans to create a new €130m inhaled
medicines unit at its facility in Amboise, France suggests that the
firm is still intent on investing in inhalation technology, despite
its disappointment with Exubera.

Does the move by the world's biggest pharmaceutical firm show that inhaled drugs have a role to play in the treatment of non-respiratory disorders or is it simply an indication that Pfizer is hedging its bets in an effort to make up for a lacklustre development pipeline? Last year, Pfizer's decision to pull the plug on the inhaled insulin product Exubera and incur a charge of $2.8bn appeared to have dealt a mortal blow to the development of inhaled medications for non-respiratory conditions. While for Pfizer the move could be viewed as expensive damage limitation, similar to its abandonment of torcetrapib in late 2006, for Nektar Therapeutics, Exubera's original developer, the effect was much more pronounced. On 12 February, despite having regained full rights to Exubera under a settlement with Pfizer that was finalized in November last year, Nektar announced plans to streamline its operations. The firm said that the program was likely to result in the loss of 150 jobs and a pre-tax severance charge of between $7m and $8m in the current financial year. The Californian group remained positive however, commenting that it has seen considerable progress in the development of NKTR-102 (PEG-irinotecan) for solid tumours, NKTR-118 (oral PEG-naloxol) for opioid bowel dysfunction and, in collaboration with Bayer, NKTR-061 (inhaled amikacin) for hospital-acquired pneumonia. The firm added that it still plans to find a new commercial partner for its inhaled insulin program. Howard Robin, Nektar's president and chief executive officer, said that: "this restructuring aligns the organization with the future direction of our company and strengthens our ability to drive programs rapidly through the clinic."​ In contrast, Pfizer's proposed inhaled drugs unit will create around 440 new jobs and is intended to position the Amboise site as the leading global centre for the development of such products, both in terms of formulation and manufacture. The news will be welcomed by the local workforce, which was informed on 8 February of plans to shut down R&D operations at the facility. Pfizer said that it intends to begin construction of the new state of the art facility in March this year and anticipates that the project will be complete in approximately five years time.

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