Pfizer’s Torcetrapib Failure: The Risks of New Drug Development

Pfizer’s Torcetrapib Failure: The Risks of New Drug Development

Appreciate the need for better decision making in drug research and development in the pharmaceutical industry

This case is about the failure of Torcetrapib, a high profile drug for lowering cholesterol that was being developed by Pfizer Inc. (Pfizer). Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, was the leader in the cholesterol drug market due to its blockbuster drug, Lipitor. Its dependence on Lipitor was high as the brand accounted for around 25 percent of the total revenues of Pfizer. There were great expectations from Torcetrapib as Pfizer hoped that it would compensate for the potential decrease in Lipitor’s revenues when its patent expired in 2010. 

Because of its novel mechanism of action, experts believed that Torcetrapib would become a bestselling drug within a few years of its launch.        

Pfizer planned for one of the biggest ever clinical trials (in terms of the number of patients under trial) for Torcetrapib, ignoring warnings about some safety related issues with the drug. It had also planned to launch the drug only in combination with Lipitor in an effort to protect the sales of Lipitor post 2010. Due to intense criticism from doctors and patient groups, Pfizer later decided to offer Torcetrapib as a stand alone pill that could be used in combination with any cholesterol lowering drug. But Torcetrapib’s development had to be stopped as it was linked to some deaths in the test population. This unfortunate development had left Pfizer with no key developmental drug in its pipeline that could compensate for the drop in Lipitor’s sales post 2010. 

This case discusses the impact of the failure of Torcetrapib on Pfizer and the reactions of various stakeholders (doctors, investors, etc.). It also outlines the risks of new drug development in the pharmaceutical industry.

Issues:

Q1. Understand the issues and challenges faced by large pharmaceutical companies with regard to new product (drug) development

Q2. Appreciate the need for better decision making in drug research and development in the pharmaceutical industry

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