Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been accused of ‘burying’ data from 2015 which showed a link between the drug Enbrel and Alzheimer’s disease. According to a new report by the Washington Post, those who were taking the drug Enbrel to treat their arthritis were 64 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The results were derived from an analysis of hundreds of thousands of insurance claims, however, running a clinical trial to verify that the drug actually helped prevent Alzheimer’s would be costly.
“Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said the PowerPoint slide show, which was prepared for review by an internal Pfizer committee in February 2018.
After three years of internal discussions, the pharmaceutical giant decided to opt out of further investigation, meanwhile, it chose to keep the data private, as the company confirmed.
Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention as the drug doesn’t directly reach the brain tissue, the company told The Post, meaning the likelihood of a successful clinical trial would be quite low. Pfizer also noted that the insurance claims analysis did not meet ‘rigorous’ scientific standards, ultimately resulting in opting against the publication of its data as publishing the information might have led outside scientists down an invalid pathway.
‘I find Pfizer’s decision really difficult to understand,’ Professor Rob Howard, an old-age psychiatry expert at University College London, told MailOnline. “There’s a lot of interest, in Alzheimer’s research, in repurposing drugs and if you were to draw up a list of the top 10 with the most interest [Enbrel] would definitely be on there.”
While Professor Howard believes revealing the findings now wasn’t too late, it did cause a delay to a research field that has been racing to discover a new treatment as its been faced with constant failures.
‘To be fair to drug companies they’re not saintly organizations and we have to understand they are commercial entities whose first responsibilities are to their shareholders,” he said. “But without them, we wouldn’t have new drugs. I think they have a bigger responsibility to science.’
Other outside scientists disagreed with Pfizer when it came to studying Enbrel’s potential in Alzheimer’s prevention as they felt it wasn’t a scientific dead end. Instead, they claim it holds significant clues to fighting the memory-robbing disease, in addition to slowing cognitive decline in its earliest stages.
Enbrel had also reached the end of its patent life, meanwhile, profits began dwindling at the emergence of generic competition which diminished financial incentives for further research into Enbrel and other drugs in its class.
“I’m frustrated myself really by the whole thing,’’ said Clive Holmes a professor of biological psychiatry at the University of Southampton, who had received former support from Pfizer for Enbrel research in Alzheimer’s – a separate 2015 trial in 41 patients that proved inconclusive.
According to Holmes, Pfizer and other companies don’t want to heavily invest in further research just to have their markets undermined by generic competition. “Someone can pop up and say, ‘Look, I’ve got a me-too drug here,’ ’’ he said, referring to the generic versions of Enbrel. “I think that is what this is all about.’’