Now that the vaccine boom is behind us, Pfizer's future depends on two pills that promise to revolutionize the health market: one for losing weight, the other for gaining it. This was confirmed by Mikael Dolsten, director of the Research and Development department of the American pharmaceutical giant. During a speech at the Leerink Global Biopharma conference, which took place this week in Miami, Dolsten gave an update on the hottest projects his company is working on. “This year, we will devote 11 to 12 billion dollars to research and development activities,” announced the director of Pfizer. A substantial part of this sum ends up in vaccine research activities, where the American giant “has been a leader for around three decades and we intend to vigorously defend this record”. However, there is another sector on which Pfizer has set its sights: “Another pillar [della strategia di Ricerca e Sviluppo] this is internal medicine, where we work on various aspects of weight regulation in human diseases.

Stellar revenues, but declining

First, a step back. If Pfizer is entering the market for pills to help you gain or lose weight, it is because revenues from the sale of vaccines have been declining for more than a year. After the boom of the Covid years, the 2023 accounts of the American company certified the collapse in demand for the Comirnaty vaccine and the anti-Covid treatment Paxlovid, which effectively returned the company's accounts to normality. before the pandemic. Last year, Pfizer had revenue of $58.5 billion, down 42% from the more than $100 million it earned in 2022, largely from vaccines. Net profit is also declining, which stopped in 2023 at “only” 2.1 billion, compared to 31.4 in 2022 (-93%). Finally, forecasts for 2024 have dampened investor enthusiasm. Last December, Pfizer published a document in which it forecast revenues for this year of between $58.5 and $61.5 billion, or without significant growth compared to what was collected in 2023. the need to find new markets to increase its turnover and make the most of the firepower of the Research and Development department, one of the most active in the pharmaceutical sector.

EPA/Sarah Yenesel | Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, speaks at a conference in New York (March 7, 2024)

The pill to lose weight

The first frontier that Pfizer has been exploring, for several years now, is the anti-obesity pill Danuglipron, which, according to CEO Alberto Bourla, aims to capture a market worth at least $90 billion to $100 billion. According to data from the World Health Organization, there are more than a billion obese people in the world. And it is precisely for them that Pfizer's new drug is aimed, which – as Mikael Dolsten explained a few days ago in Miami – “is capable of causing a truly significant weight loss: up to 13%. in 36 weeks. In addition to Danuglipron, the American giant is working on two other anti-obesity drugs, which will allow the company to “build a portfolio aimed at different types of patients”. Pfizer focuses on two markets: China and the United States, which offer an audience of potential customers (overweight or obese) equal to 600 and 150 million people, respectively. According to Dolsten, the real key to conquering both markets lies not only in the result promised by the drug, but also in the method of administration. “It would be very difficult to satisfy all these segments with injectable drugs alone. It is for this reason – explains the R&D director of Pfizer – that we and other companies are working on an oral solution allowing access to wider segments of the population.

And the one to gain weight

The results of clinical trials on Danuglipron have attracted the attention of the world press. However, there is another front, less publicized, on which the company led by Albert Bourla is working. It is a product designed to combat cachexia, that is, the loss of weight and body mass that generally occurs in patients with tumors, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease in advanced stages and other diseases. “In 20 to 30 percent of patients who die from cancer, cachexia is one of the contributing causes of the disease,” Dolsten recalled at this week's conference in Miami. The new drug Pfizer is working on is called Ponsegromab and helps counteract the effects of the biomarker Gdf-15, thought to be responsible for some of the main effects of cachexia, including loss of appetite, muscle atrophy and loss of weight. “We are focusing on some of the most serious cancers, including lung cancer and pancreatic cancer,” Dolsten emphasizes. The pill is also intended for patients who are undergoing chemotherapy sessions and who, thanks to Ponsegromab, will be able to count on “a better ability to tolerate the treatment”.

Cover photo: EPA/Alex Plavevski | A Pfizer stand at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai (November 5, 2023)

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