FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What Went Wrong at Pfizer?

Pfizer announced a few days ago that they pulled the plug on torcetrapib, because the drug had sharply increased the death rate in a 15,000 patient trial. This was the drug that was going to save Pfizer when Lipitor, Pfizer’s $14 billion blockbuster anti-cholesterol medicine, goes off patent in 2010. To make matters worse, two days before canceling all further development, Pfizer’s CEO Jeff Kindler stated at a large meeting with 250 analysts that torcetrapib was “one of the most important developments in our generation.”

During the past week newspapers and analysts and scientists have had one question on their mind: How could something like that happen to the preeminent drug company in the world? How could the CEO of this powerful drug company be caught hyping a drug that was withdrawn only days later?

As a former Vice President of Pfizer, and based on my many years working in the drug industry, I may have some clues to what really happened.

First, let’s face it. A drug company such as Pfizer does not spend $800 million on clinical trials for a new drug without very good preliminary data that indicate that this drug has the potential to save a great number of lives. But you never really know what will happen until you start large scale phase III clinical trials. Pfizer did just that, and enrolled 15,000 patients.

Then the trouble began. First they discovered that while torcetrapib appeared to increase “good cholesterol” by about 60%, which is a good thing, it also increased blood pressure, which is a bad thing.

Pfizer’s research chief, Dr. John LaMattina, was according to the New York Times, “the company’s chief booster for torcetrapib” and he clearly staked his career and scientific reputation on this new drug, in spite of the bad news.

But, according to Forbes, “some researchers had always doubted torcetrapib, some savagely. Even doctors who tested the drug said it was a big gamble. Years before Pfizer’s drug went into large-scale trials, some research suggested that drugs like it might actually do more harm than good. In particular, at least three published studies of people with gene mutations that the drug mimicked found unexpectedly higher rates of heart disease.”

John LaMattina, however, determined that it was in his and Pfizer’s best interest to contradict the critics and claim that torcetrapib was “the most important new development in cardiovascular medicine in years,” two days before the torcetrapib drug trial was abruptly halted.

And normally a research chief has an experienced CEO, who may not have the same personal investment in any particular drug, who can independently ask the tough questions.

Only this time Dr. LaMattina didn’t have such a boss.

Dr. LaMattina reports to Jeffrey Kindler, and Mr. Kindler has only four months experience as a drug company CEO and only five years of experience in the drug industry. And in those five years, Mr. Kindler never managed the business. He was in charge of the law department. In fact, Mr. Kindler has less experience in the drug industry than many of his product managers and sales representatives. And of course, that makes it hard to ask the tough questions.

What made matters even worse was that Jeff Kindler wanted to change how Pfizer was run. His predecessor, Dr. Hank McKinnell, had been forced out amid turmoil surrounding his compensation package and poor stock performance. Dr. McKinnell had also made himself an impopular on the Street, and minimized his contacts with analysts. Mr. Kindler was going to change all that, create a new openness, and instead ended up embarrassed.

Of course, I do believe that Mr. Kindler is doing the right thing, when it comes to openness, but such openness has to be combined with actually know-how. So when market guru Jim Cramer after this debacle wrote, “Maybe they really are a bunch of jokers at Pfizer,” that certainly doesn’t bode well for this large corporation. And when Mr. Cramer piled it on the following day, saying that “there are three things Pfizer is good at” and then listed those things as, “issuing press releases, screaming at the media” and “blaming the system,” then, any investor would start getting seriously concerned. It probably doesn’t help that Mr. Cramer also billed Pfizer a “$25 bond with no upside.”

This development is more than a big set-back for Pfizer. It provides an unusual glimpse into a corporation caught with its pants down and its hubris exposed for the entire world to see. After all, there were plenty of warning signs, ignored by Pfizer’s present management. And there is perhaps only one person smiling right now. And that is Pfizer’s vice chairman, Karen Katen, forced out after her succession battle with Jeff Kindler. She had thirty years of experience in the drug industry.

Peter Rost, M.D., is a former Vice President of Pfizer. He became well known in 2004 when he emerged as the first drug company executive to speak out in favor of reimportation of drugs. He is the author of “The Whistleblower, Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman.” See: http://the-whistleblower-by-peter-rost.blogspot.com/

 

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 10, 2019
Tony McKenna
The Demonization of Jeremy Corbyn
John Grant
American Culture Loves a Good Killer
Jacob Hornberger
Afghanistan: a Pentagon Paradise Built on Lies
Nick Licata
Was Trump Looking for Corruption or a Personal Favor?
Thomas M. Magstadt
What’s the Matter With America?
Brian Tokar
Climate Talks in Madrid: What Will It Take to Prevent Climate Collapse?
Ron Jacobs
Where Justice is a Game: Impeachment Hearings Redux
Jack Rasmus
Trump vs. Democracy
Walden Bello
Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
Binoy Kampmark
A Troubled Family: NATO Turns 70
Brian Horejsi
Citizens Are Never Trusted
Michael Barker
Self-Defense in the Civil Rights Movement: the Lessons of Birmingham, 1963
John Feffer
Soldiers Who Fight War
Howie Wolke
Willingness to Compromise Puts Wilderness at Risk
December 09, 2019
Jefferson Morley
Trump’s Hand-Picked Prosecutor John Durham Cleared the CIA Once, Will He Again?
Kirkpatrick Sale
Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold
Ishmael Reed
Bloomberg Condoned Sexual Assault by NYPD 
W. T. Whitney
Hitting at Cuban Doctors and at Human Solidarity
Louisa Willcox
The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence
Thomas Knapp
Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner
John Feffer
How the New Right Went Global — and How to Stop It
Ralph Nader
Why Not Also Go With “The Kitchen Table” Impeachable Offenses for Removal?
Robert Fisk
Meet the Controversial Actor and Businessman Standing Up Against Egypt’s el-Sisi
M. K. Bhadrakumar
Sri Lanka Continues Its Delicate Dance With India
Dahr Jamail
Savoring What Remains: Dealing With Climate PTSD
George Wuerthner
Bison Slaughter in Yellowstone…Again
Scott Tucker
Premature Democratic Socialists: Reasons for Hope and Change
Julian Rose
Polish Minister of Health Proposes Carcinogenic 5G Emission Levels as National Norm
Dean Baker
Coal and the Regions Left Behind
Robert Koehler
Envisioning a United World
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail