What we know about Pfizer, its "possible Alzheimer's treatment" and the data it has hidden since 2015

In 2015, a Pfizer research team discovered that Enbrel, one of its flagship medications that until now was used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, appeared to "reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by 64%." After knowing the data, as the Washington Post reveals today, the pharmacist decided to hide it. Why?

A case full of interests

What happened? According to the North American newspaper, in 2015, an analysis of hundreds of thousands of insurance claims revealed that the drug can have positive effects at the neurological level. The researchers proposed to the pharmacist to launch a clinical trial to see if this was indeed the case. The trial would have cost at least about $ 80 million.

Pfizer, after studying the case between 2015 and 2018, decided to cancel that line of investigation and not make these latest data public. As the Washington Post explains, the pharmaceutical company acknowledged hiding the information and would have justified it based on its "rigorous scientific standards." This has also been confirmed by the newspaper El Mundo.

Certainly, on a theoretical level, the molecule is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier. That is, it should not have an effect on diseases like Alzheimer's. In fact, more than a decade ago, Pfizer already tried to use it to treat the disease and awarded grants to independent researchers, but did not get any interesting results.

Why did you hide it? Pfizer's explanations point to the lack of certainty offered by the new data (which we must not forget that it was analysis of insurance data) compared to what the company previously had. Company spokeswoman Ed Harnaga explained that they withheld the information to avoid starting an investigation that would have wasted many resources without much sense. "Science was the only determining factor for not moving forward," he explained.

Where is the problem? There are three basic problems: The first is that, just as Pfizer was making the decision on the Enbrel, the pharmaceutical company was closing the area of ​​the company that was tasked precisely with researching Alzheimer's treatments. the second is that the patent for the drug was about to expire. As we saw in the case of treating depression with ketamine, the fact of not having a patent makes the investment necessary to approve a new use of any drug much less attractive. Financially speaking.

The third problem is in the uncertainty of whether, given these new data that suggested that the drug could cross the blood-brain barrier, Pfizer should have done the drug's toxicity studies again. In principle, this is the most serious "accusation".Above all, because although the evidence on the table was very weak, the question will remain on the table until it is re-evaluated.

Outrage in the Scientific Community Criticism was swift, and many scientists, such as Rudolph E. Tanzi, a researcher specializing in Alzheimer's genetics and a professor at Harvard Medical School, do not understand how fundamental data could not be published in a disorder against which we are still so helpless. "Positive or negative, it is data that gives us more information to make better informed decisions," explained Keenan Walker, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

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