Wyeth latest drugmaker to narrow focus of research

Wyeth latest drugmaker to narrow focus of research


New Jersey: Like many of the top pharmaceutical companies, Wyeth is narrowing its research focus to far fewer diseases as it tries to produce more successful new drugs, particularly for conditions lacking good treatments.

Wyeth is even ending research in its signature areas in women’s health, contraceptives and menopause treatments and switching to other female health problems with an unmet need, such as ovarian cancer and lupus.

The Madison, New Jersey-based company is scaling back from doing research in its current 14 therapeutic areas to just six, Dr. Evan Loh, a Wyeth vice president, said Wednesday. Instead of doing research on a total of 55 diseases, it now will work on 27.

The changes, announced to the staff are to be effective immediately and are part of the “Project Impact" that Wyeth announced in January, a restructuring meant to cut about 10% of its then-50,000 jobs. The shift won’t entail eliminating even more jobs, but will mean some research scientists will have to move to new areas geographically or in research specialty or leave Wyeth.

The six areas of focus now are vaccines; cancer; inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and severe asthma; metabolic conditions including diabetes and obesity; musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis and spinal fractures; and neuroscience, including treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, schizophrenia and chronic pain.

New research in women’s health, though, will now focus on breast and ovarian cancer, biotech treatments for fractured bones and the inflammatory autoimmune disorder lupus, which strikes nine women for every male patient. “Women’s health, we believe, is actually broader than just contraception and menopause treatments," said Loh.

Wyeth was a groundbreaker in those areas, developing the first birth control pill meant to be taking continuously, Lybrel; a now-discontinued implantable rod contraceptive called Norplant, and the hormone replacement drugs Premarin and Prempro, which dominated the market for menopause symptom treatments until a huge federal study linked long-term use to a slight increase in breast cancer and other health problems. Norplant, Premarin and Prempro all triggered numerous lawsuits against the company.

Other top 20 drugmakers have already taken such steps, including Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.