Prospects for new heart-disease therapies looked grim last fall, when one of the world’s top drug companies, Pfizer, announced it would drop out of the arena of cardiovascular disease research. The news prompted an opinion letter published in last month’s New England Journal of Medicine regarding the “uncertain future of cardiovascular drug development.” This past week, however, Merck announced it would strengthen its efforts toward new heart-disease therapies through a license agreement with drug developer Cardiome Pharma Corp. of Vancouver, Canada.
Merck’s agreement with Cardiome centers on the development and commercialization of the oral formulation of vernakalant, an investigational drug for the treatment of atrial fibrillation. Cardiome has also partnered with Astellas Pharma US for the codevelopment of “Kynapid” (vernakalant hydrochloride), an injection formulation also fro atrial fibrillation. The Cardiome-Astellas team receved an approvable letter from the US Food and Drug Administration in August 2008.
In November 2008, Merck reaffirmed its position in developing therapies to treat and prevent heart diseases, stating it has eight new drug candidates in cardiovascular research and development. The company is not alone. According to a report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry now has “a record number of potential medicines to treat heart disease and stroke,” with more than 300 potential candidates undergoing human clinical trials or awaiting approval.
Of course, while Merck and Pfizer stand on the opposite ends of whether to continue research efforts in cardiovascular efforts, their respective situations also are very different. Given the recent $68-billion acquisition of Wyeth (see related blog post), Pfizer can ill-afford to retain its resources in areas that may seem overcrowded and is clearly restructuring to focus on other endeavors (see related blog post).