Pfizer says designing drugs for Asia-prevalent diseases

SINGAPORE, April 7 Wed Apr 7, 2010 6:18am EDT

SINGAPORE, April 7 (Reuters) - Pfizer (PFE.N) has said it will conduct more research on Asian populations in coming years to design drugs for diseases prevalent in the region, such as cancers of the liver and head and neck.

Its clinical research unit in Singapore -- which had a volunteer list of 14,000 healthy individuals -- would be used as a base for Asia-specific research, its research and development (R&D) executives said in Singapore.

"Prevalence rates for specific types of cancer are significantly higher (in Asia), for example gastric cancer, liver cancer, and head and neck cancer, probably due to factors such as diet, environment and genetics," Steve Yang, head of Pfizer's R&D in Asia, said at a press briefing.

"People often talk about personalised medicine and the challenge and opportunity is for scientists not only to understand the disease at a collective level, but for each different sub-population, whether we can identify specific mutations that are most relevant and then match that with our own drugs," said Yang, who is based in Shanghai.

Pfizer began researching in Asia about 3-½ years ago and its Singapore research unit is one of three worldwide - the other two being Brussels in Belgium and Connecticut in the United States. Although its efforts in Asia have so far yielded no new drugs, its global R&D chief is hopeful.

"There are certainly compounds in development. Different patient populations actually have different etiology of disease ... Now that we have that force in Asia, I think it's going to lead to some profound discoveries," said Martin Mackay, president of R&D at Pfizer.

Etiology is the study into the causes or origins of disease.

Pfizer also expressed interest in diabetes in Asia, expected to be an enormous public health problem for the region in the years ahead.

"I am intrigued by diabetes. Again the etiology is different in diabetes and how we can apply the science and come up with diabetes medicines exclusively for Asians," Mackay said.

The company announced this week a partnership with MicuRx Pharmaceuticals Inc and China-based Cumencor Pharmaceuticals to develop new drugs to fight drug-resistant tuberculosis, or TB strains that are resistant at least to isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most powerful anti-TB drugs.

With the exception of rifabutin, there has been no new TB drug for more than 40 years.

A typical new drug takes 10 to 15 years and can cost around US$1 billion to bring to market. Behind every new drug can be hundreds of failed compounds.

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