Pfizer's New HIV Drug Approval- So What?

 |  About: Pfizer Inc. (PFE)
by: Derek Lowe

Pfizer got a tiny bit of good news yesterday when an FDA panel recommended their new HIV drug, Maraviroc, for approval. There are several stories that can be told about this news, so let's try a few: The business story is that this is not going to make a lot of difference for the company, because the drug isn't going to be a first-line therapy.

They have to hope that it performs well and can expand its use, because a $25 to $50 million/year drug is a roundoff error on the scale of Pfizer's financial concerns. So much for the money.

The drug development story is that this will be the first CCR5 inhibitor to reach the market. That's a useful benchmark by the standards of this blog, because back in 2002, in my second month of blogging, I wrote about this class of drugs. The first CCR5 inhibitors had already made it into human patients by that time, and here we are, five years later, and one of them is just about to make it to market. Patience is supposed to be a virtue, but in the drug business, it's a case of making that virtue out of necessity.

And the big philosophical story is how the world has changed in the last twenty years. Here's a new HIV medication, one with a new mechanism, and it makes the second business page of the paper if it makes it at all.

A completely new drug for a dreaded disease is coming, and no one thinks it'll do all that well, because of all the competition, y'know. It'll be given to people who've failed courses of treatment with all the other HIV drugs out there, and unless you're paying attention it's hard to keep up with all of them.

For people who remember the 1980s, all this still feels strange - imagine a message from the future popping up in 1985, saying: "In twenty years, the viral disease with by far the most crowded market, the largest number of possible therapeutic options and the widest variety of drug mechanisms will be. . . HIV". Actually, that would have scared everyone even more than they already were, because it would sounded like the worst predictions from that era had come true.

In reality, HIV isn't even in the top 15 causes of death in the US, with the most recent figures I can find putting its contribution to the death rate a bit below that of aortic aneurysm. (Some other parts of the world are a different story, of course, although the 1980s predictions for them were even more apocalyptic.) But all in all, I'm fine with living in a world where new drugs against deadly diseases aren't necessarily front-page news. . .

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