Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer ditches hunt for Alzheimer's cure

brain scan
Researchers have spent years looking for a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. Source: Shutterstock

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has terminated its research program into the hunt for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease after losing millions on failed drug trials.

The multi-billion dollar company will  reportedly lay off about 300 staff globally and turn its efforts to other research areas after failing to successfully combat the disease over the years.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, says the news comes “as a heavy blow to the estimated 46.8 million people currently living with the condition across the globe”.

“Of course it’s disappointing to hear that Pfizer, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, will be terminating their research efforts in neuroscience, including Alzheimer’s disease drug discovery,” he said in a statement. “Every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia and, with this number set to rise, there has never been a more important time for such life-saving research. As we make progress in our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia, we hope pharma will unite with us to turn breakthroughs into treatments that could improve the lives of millions.”

Pfizer is also ending its research into a cure for Parkinson’s Disease. A spokesperson from the company told Starts at 60 they’re still committed to research into drugs for other rare neurological diseases.

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“Pfizer routinely reviews its research and development pipeline to ensure that it is in the strongest possible position to support scientific discovery and development to bring new therapies to patients who need them,” a spokesperson for Pfizer said. “As a result of a recent comprehensive review, we have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate funding to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients.

“We recognise that tremendous unmet need exists in the patient community and that it’s important for us to continue contributing toward the advancement of research. In the coming months, Pfizer intends to create a dedicated neuroscience venture fund to support continued efforts to advance the field. More details on the fund will be forthcoming this year.”

Research into Alzheimer’s Disease has increased in recent decades with many of the big pharmaceutical companies racing to find a cure. There have been multiple breakthroughs in small studies, but researchers are yet to find a cure.

An estimated 44 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. That number is expected to blow out to 135 million people by 2050.

While much of the research is pinned on developing new drugs to target certain areas of the brain, other studies have found that common medications can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers from the University of Southern California recently discovered that those taking cholesterol-lowering medication were less likely to develop the disease.

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Their study, published in the journal JAMA Neurology focussed on those aged 65 years or older for a total period of seven years. It found that there was a 15 per cent lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease among women who were taking a high dose of cholesterol-lowering medication, while for men in the same category there was a 12 per cent lower risk of the disease.

The team suggested “the right type of statin, for the right person, at the right time, may provide an inexpensive means to decrease the burden of Alzheimer’s disease”.

What are your thoughts on this? Should pharma companies keep working for a cure no matter the cost?