Like many of our colleagues in neuroscience, we were surprised to see the recent steps Pfizer took in the field of Neuroscience. More specifically, Pfizer deprioritized neuroscience early R&D earlier this year, although now announced that 25% of the $600m added to its venture fund will be spent on neurology investments.
We asked ourselves: Why would a company stop neuroscience research internally but invest substantial money via a VC? Is Pfizer unable to identify and decide on new targets? Is Pfizer not able to execute the development? Is the quality of internal data too low? We believe that Pfizer is one of the most capable and innovative neuroscience organizations and therefore have to exclude all of the above mentioned possibilities.
Why would Pfizer then take such a “curious move” (as it was called in a recent commentary that appeared on Scrip on June 12, 2018)? Here, Pfizer corporate venture fund’s Senior Managing Partner Barbara Dalton explained that “As a corporation, we move around in the areas we’re in, and while the decisions were made for the right reasons to discontinue neuroscience R&D at the early stage for Pfizer, who knows what that’s going to look like five years from now or seven years from now… This way, we will keep a small, core group of people who are working with companies in the outside world who are doing hopefully really groundbreaking, innovative things that can have an impact on patients’ lives with these severely debilitating neurological diseases.”
Do these comments help to understand Pfizer’s strategy? Yes, they do. And it sounds very positive and potentially re-assuring for the whole field of neuroscience. One little detail, however, that hopefully Pfizer will not forget – VC-backed research should follow the same high quality standards as the internal drug discovery would surely have.