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Pfizer abandons Exubera

Published on 19/10/07 at 11:36am

Once predicted to be a blockbuster, inhaled insulin product Exubera is to be abandoned by Pfizer because of poor sales.

Exubera is the first ever inhaled insulin, and had seemed to offer a convenient alternative to daily injections to diabetes patients, but the product has not caught on and Pfizer has decided to cut its losses.

The company had recently spent money on US direct-to-consumer television adverts in a last-ditch attempt to generate demand, but this proved unsuccessful.

"Despite our best efforts, Exubera has failed to gain the acceptance of patients and physicians," said Pfizer chief executive Jeffrey Kindler. "We have therefore concluded that further investment in this product is unwarranted."

The drug's failure is bad news for Pfizer, which faces a wave of patent expiries in the coming years, and saw its sales dip 2% in the third quarter of this year.

Exubera earned just $4 million in global sales in the second quarter of this year, a negligible return for the billions Pfizer has spent on developing, licensing and marketing the drug.

Pfizer paid $1.3 billion for sole marketing rights to the drug to development partner Sanofi-Aventis in 2006, also acquiring insulin production plants in Germany.

The company must now spend $2.8 billion in write-off charges to withdraw the drug, including charges from tangible and intangible assets, inventory and other costs.

Analysts Datamonitor say a number of factors conspired against Exubera, including the fact that it was only available with an unwieldy delivery device. Moreover, concerns about the risks of long-term lung damage and carcinogenicity remained, despite FDA approval.

Its market squeezed by new oral treatments like Lilly's Byetta, the drug was also seen as an unnecessary expense by health payers, with no therapeutic advantage over injected insulin.  

The product was rejected by cost effectiveness bodies in the UK and Germany, and US doctors were dissuaded from using it because of its high reimbursement price.

Exubera's withdrawal could also be the death knell for rival products still in the pipeline. Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Mannkind are working on their own inhaled insulin products, but may well decide to discontinue them.

Datamonitor analyst Dr Nikolaos Karachalias said: "It has now become clear that true convenience in the form of a discreet portable device is required in order to win over patients, and a true therapeutic advantage compared to traditionally administered insulin needs to be proven to secure reimbursement.


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