5 Pharma Flops and Feats

Pharma Flops and Feats

Pharmaceuticals have helped us to live longer and enjoy greater quality of life, but there have also been instances in which things didn’t work out quite as planned. I investigated ten recent examples that illustrate the best – and the worst – efforts of the pharmaceutical industry.




5 Pharma Flops

  • Acomplia (Sanofi-Aventis): Acomplia was approved in the UK as a treatment for obesity in 2006. The selective cannabinoid receptor CB1 was touted as an appetite suppressant that simply stopped the hunger message from getting to the brain. Unfortunately, the side-effects included severe depression and suicidal thoughts, and by 2009 approval for the drug was withdrawn. Thinner might be seen as healthier, but not if you’re thinner and suicidal!

  • Effient (Eli Lily): Sometimes, drugs just don’t do as well as expected. Eli Lily hoped they would kill the competition with their new blood-thinning medication, Effient. Sales got off to a promising start, but after the FDA approved warnings contra-indicating the drug for angioplasty patients, things went pear-shaped for Effient. Eli-Lily still thought that Effient was in with a good chance, but analysts thought differently. Eli Lily still believes that their drug is better than its competitor, Plavix. Will Effient eventually live up to expectations? Only time will tell.

  • Exubera (Pfizer): Imagine how great it would be if people with diabetes could just inhale their insulin instead of giving themselves injections. Pfizer thought it was a great idea too, and poised themselves for a blockbuster success. It didn’t happen, however. The device for inhaling insulin was big and clumpy, and it was found that people with diabetes don’t find injecting themselves painful or inconvenient enough to lug a huge dispenser around with them instead. Within a year, Pfizer announced that it would stop producing the drug.

  • Fanapt (Novartis): Six months after Fanapt was approved as anti-psychotic drug, Novartis acquired Vanda Pharmaceuticals – the company that had developed the drug. Novartis poised itself for massive sales volumes that never materialised. Doctors simply weren’t prescribing Fanapt. Why? Because there were too many better known and cheaper options that did the same thing.

  • Relenza (GlaxoSmithKline): Flu pandemics are a terrifying, global phenomenon, so when Relenza was found to be effective in treating avian flu, surely it would be a success? After all, its only competitor, Tamiflu, wasn’t as effective. However, Relenza lost out to Tamiflu, partly because it came with too many warnings and partly because it couldn’t be used as a preventative measure while Tamiflu could.

Pharma Flop Takeaways: Side-effects aren’t the only cause for pharma flops. Sometimes, drugs fail because companies misunderstand patient needs. Sometimes, there are too many contraindications, or too much competition from existing drugs. Reading the market can be as tricky as developing a new drug.

5 Pharma Feats

  • Serelaxin (Novartis): The FDA has hailed Serelaxin as a breakthrough therapy for heart failure. It’s safe, effective, and 36% less patients die in the 6-months following heart failure when Serelaxin is used. The FDA announcement was made in October 2015, and the drug is expected to generate as much as $2.5 billion in revenue for Novartis.

  • Drug Combination for Cystic Fibrosis (Vertex Pharmaceuticals): Up until now, there has been no effective treatment for Cystic Fibrosis. The development of a combination of drugs (Ivacaftor and Lumacaftor) targeting a Cystic Fibrosis protein and effectively treating the condition is a massive breakthrough for pharma and for patients around the world.

  • Ibrance (Pfizer): Another drug to be hailed by the FDA as a breakthrough, Ibrance is a CDK4/6 inhibitor that can be used in treating certain forms of metastatic breast cancer when used in combination with Letrozole. The drug is expected to be a huge commercial success, and more importantly, to save lives.

  • Opdivo (Bristol-Myers Squibb): Opdivo is the first-ever PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor to be approved for the treatment of advanced melanoma – and is being investigated as an anti-cancer drug for other types of cancer too. Merck have released a competitor for the new drug, but Opdivo has a head-start thanks to its status as the first drug of its kind to be approved.

  • Repatha (Amgen Inc.): Approved in August 2015, Repatha is an injectable drug that is used to combat genetically transmitted hypercholesterolemia. In trials, it was found to reduce LDL cholesterol by 31% across all the groups studied – great news for those who have lived in fear of heart attacks or strokes as a result of an inherited tendency to high cholesterol levels.

Pharma Feat Takeaways: The pharmaceutical industry is still conquering new ground, and producing drugs that can be used to tackle diseases and improve quality of life. Of course, it is hoped that profits will be made, but those who will profit most are the patients who will benefit from these new treatments.


Categories: Health, Pharmaceuticals

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