20 years after Viagra, Pfizer seeks another miracle drug

In this file photo taken on April 19, 2004 shows pharmaceutical giant Pfizer's New York headquarters. (AFP)
Updated 01 April 2018
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20 years after Viagra, Pfizer seeks another miracle drug

NEW YORK: It has been 20 years since Viagra was introduced, and Pfizer is still searching for another drug with as much earning power as the revolutionary blue erection pill.
If anything, the chances for another miracle drug may be waning as the pharmaceutical giant constrains its research and development budget amid broader cost-cutting efforts.
Pfizer forecasts it will spend $7.4 to $7.9 billion this year on R&D, compared with $7.7 billion last year, according to projections released in February.
That is below the R&D of rivals such as Merck and Johnson & Johnson, which plan more than $10 billion in spending.
Pfizer’s restraint means walking away from entire areas of medical research.
In January, the world’s number two pharmaceutical company by sales ended its research programs into treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cutting 300 jobs and saying it would reinvest the funds in other domains.
Pfizer also signaled it could sell its consumer health care business, which includes popular over-the-counter products such as the anti-inflammatory drug Advil, multivitamin Centrum and the ubiquitous ChapStick lip balm.

Pharmaceutical R&D is a tricky business in the United States, where there is extensive clinical testing and back-and-forth with the Food and Drug Administration before introducing a new drug.
Once launched, pharma companies also are under increased pressure to keep drug costs low following a number of controversies over runaway pill prices.
The cost of bringing a new drug to market requires an average of $2.6 billion, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.
That’s a heavy investment considering that in the last 20 years there have been just 19 treatments that have generated at least $1 billion in annual revenue for their first five years, according to the QuintilesIMS Institute, a health care data and research company.
Against this backdrop, Pfizer has increasingly opted for a model where it shares the risks and benefits with other drug makers.
It has announced strategic partnerships with Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, while also collaborating with biotechs and university researchers in areas such as oncology and immunology.
Pfizer also finances some research through a venture capital-type unit, Pfizer Venture Investments.

Pfizer has had other highly lucrative drugs besides Viagra, including the anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, the anti-depressant Zoloft and the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex.
The company said it is confident of future success.
“Our current pipeline is poised with an opportunity to deliver up to an additional 15 potential blockbusters over the next five years,” a Pfizer spokesman said.
The spokesman noted that the company’s R&D budget has been “very consistent” at around $7.65 billion the last three years.
But revenue dropped slightly last year to $52.5 billion. While the group expects sales to rise in 2018, at most it would go up just five percent, according to company projections.
Key challenges include the arrival of new generic products and the growth of the biosimilar market, which allows for substitutes to traditional drugs.
The arrival of biosimilars in Europe has cut into sales of the anti-inflammatory drug Enbrel and Viagra itself has seen revenue drop as generics have been launched in the US and Europe.
Wall Street analysts consider Pfizer a likely candidate for a mega merger. Pfizer’s efforts at giant takeovers of AstraZeneca and Allergan may have fizzled, but it has bought smaller companies in the very recent past.
In 2016, Pfizer acquired Medivation and Anacor, which added to its portfolio Xtandi and Eucrisa, treatments for prostate cancer and eczema.
In 2015, Pfizer supplemented its own biosimilar business with the purchase of Hospira.


WHO: Alcohol abuse kills 3 million a year, most of them men

The logo of the World Health Organization (WHO) is pictured on the facade of the WHO headquarters on October 24, 2017 in Geneva. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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WHO: Alcohol abuse kills 3 million a year, most of them men

  • Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents and interpersonal violence
  • An estimated 2.3 billion people worldwide drink alcohol, with average daily consumption of people at 33 grams of pure alcohol a day

GENEVA: More than 3 million people died in 2016 due to drinking too much alcohol, meaning one in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
More than three quarters of these deaths were among men, the UN health agency said. Despite evidence of the health risks it carries, global consumption of alcohol is predicted to rise in the next 10 years.
“It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.
In its “Global status report on alcohol and health 2018,” the WHO said that globally, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women are problem drinkers or alcohol abusers. The highest prevalence is in Europe and the Americas, and alcohol-use disorders are more common in wealthier countries.
Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents and interpersonal violence. Another 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
An estimated 2.3 billion people worldwide drink alcohol, with average daily consumption of people at 33 grams of pure alcohol a day. This is roughly equivalent to two 150 ml glasses of wine, a large (750 ml) bottle of beer or two 40 ml shots of spirits.
Europe has the highest per person alcohol consumption in the world, even though it has dropped by around 10 percent since 2010. Current trends point to a global rise in per capita consumption in the next 10 years, the report said, particularly in Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and the Americas.
“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Vladimir Poznyak, of the WHO’s substance abuse unit. He said proven, cost-effective steps included raising alcohol taxes, restricting advertising and limiting easy access to alcohol.
Worldwide, 45 percent of total alcohol consumed is in the form of spirits. Beer is the second most popular, accounting for 34 percent of consumption, followed by wine at 12 percent.
The report found that almost all countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half of them use other pricing strategies such as banning below-cost sales or bulk buy discounts.