Mind to Market

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pfizer Mending Fences

When drugs fail late in the development process it's R&D that usually gets the blame, but with the massive $2.8 billion write-off on Exubera by Pfizer, the ball falls squarely in marketing's court. Producing an insulin delivery system that doesn't require injection does sound promising, but the disadvantages were more than the market could bear. Exubera requires the use of an unwieldy inhaler to deliver the drug and costs around twice the amount of injectible insulin. Not to mention the unknown long term safety concerns.

Sales this year were an unimpressive $12 million, a long way from the $2 billion a year Pfizer predicted in five years. This was in part due to the reluctance doctors had in prescribing the drug due to the unknown long term effects of insulin residue on the lungs.

On Monday Pfizer announced that they would partner with Sermo, a social networking/community Web site for physicians. This could conceivably provide Pfizer with some advanced knowledge of what physicians will or will not prescribe. Or, more likely, they will be able to provide some influence into the medical community. Any overt attempts at influence will surely be met with some skepticism on the physicians' part. Better watch for those full disclosures.

The two events seem oddly coincident. Pfizer is taking a considerable risk by sponsoring the Web site. By most standards, social networking sites are not strictly censored, allowing members to write their thoughts with impunity. Although Sermo does check to make sure that all members are indeed MDs or DOs, the site does not require members to identify themselves by their real names. This could bring up legal concerns if misleading or inaccurate information is posted. But given Pfizer's unfortunate experience with Exubera they may be willing to take on some risk in order to try something new.

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