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Alzheimer's Research Wins Award For Pfizer

Alzheimer's Research Wins Award For Pfizer: Economist Sees Bright Biotech Future With Health Care Reform [The Day, New London, Conn.]

From Day, The (New London, CT) (April 28, 2010)

Apr. 28--NEW HAVEN -- During a meeting Tuesday at which Pfizer Inc. won an award for its investment in Alzheimer’s disease research, Princeton University economist Uwe Reinhardt got to address one of the big issues of the day: whether scientists would still have the wherewithal to pursue groundbreaking new drugs after national health care reform is fully implemented over the next few years.

The answer, according to Reinhardt, is that biotech companies like Pfizer should actually gain ground thanks to health reform. It’s the health-insurance industry, he suggested, that will face the most problems in implementing reforms.

"Overall, this is not going to impact your industry any more than if health care reform had not passed," he told a group of about 125 biotech leaders gathered at Yale University’s Woolsey Hall for the annual meeting of CURE, also known as Connecticut United for Research Excellence.

About a half-dozen representatives of Pfizer -- including Groton and New London site leader Toni Hoover, clinical neuroscience head Larry Altstiel and neuroscience research unit chief Anabella Villalobos -- attended the CURE meeting at which Reinhardt spoke. They were there to receive CURE’s Award for Excellence recognizing Pfizer’s huge commitment to Alzheimer’s studies, which are centered in Groton.

The researchers said Pfizer has no less than seven potential Alzheimer’s treatments in various phases of development. Pfizer spokeswoman Liz Power said about 300 to 400 scientists in Groton and New London have a hand in Alzheimer’s research, which Villalobos indicated is the top priority in disease areas she oversees in the neuroscience labs.

"We have a number of approaches ... we’re actively looking at new targets and doing very innovative biology," Altstiel said in an interview before the meeting.

"We are focused on that next great new discovery to help with this devastating illness," Hoover added.

Joseph P. Hammang, senior director of science policy for Pfizer, said one of the most exciting things about the company’s work in Alzheimer’s is that a breakthrough there could carry over into any number of other neurological illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s or Lou Gehrig’s diseases.

Scrutiny for innovators

Reinhardt said studies have shown that finding cures for these diseases could be a big boost for the economy, yet government tends to scrutinize drug developers especially hard. While the government has often looked the other way when it comes to the rest of the health care industry, with the effect being that tens of thousands of people die needlessly at hospitals with nary a word from the public, the media play up a few isolated deaths because of bad reactions to drugs, he said.

"Why do we single out the innovators?" he asked. "It’s probably the highest value-added industry we have."

When it comes to health reform, Reinhardt pointed out that government health care will add about 30 million previously uninsured people to the potential pool of customers able to acquire medicines at reasonable costs.

He also said the reform bill’s inclusion of favorable patent protections for new drugs -- 12 years of marketing free from competition, instead of the eight years President Obama had suggested -- would add to the industry’s bottom line.

Reinhardt said health care reform was inevitable given the fact that expenses were getting out of control and the value gap between U.S. medical outcomes and those in the rest of the world were widening.

He added that the administrative costs at insurance companies had become "massively inefficient" and were eating up more and more of the pay of American workers -- especially those on the lower rungs of the income ladder.

"Without reform, the number of uninsured would have risen inexorably," Reinhardt said.

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Posted: April 2010