Pfizer oral drug may shake up arthritis market

* Pill seen cheaper, more convenient than injected anti-TNFs

* Appears more effective than Abbott’s Humira in monotherapy

* Pfizer Phase III programme under way, rivals in Phase II

LONDON, June 11 (Reuters) - An experimental oral drug from Pfizer PFE.N could shake up the rheumatoid arthritis market, after impressive results were presented at a medical meeting in Denmark this week.

The drug, known only by the code CP-690,550, is likely to prove a cheaper and more convenient alternative to costly anti-TNF biotech treatments, which have led the field in the past decade, medical experts and industry analysts said.

“The next wave of drugs will be oral. I think what companies are trying to develop are oral agents that can be at least as effective or almost as effective as an anti-TNF,” said lead investigator Roy Fleischmann of University of Texas, Dallas.

“Having a compound that is more convenient and cheaper, with a similar risk-benefit ratio to a more expensive biologic, is very important, particularly in these tough economic times,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Data presented by Fleischmann at the European League Against Rheumatism meeting in Copenhagen showed that three-quarters of patients had at least a 20 percent improvement in their condition after 12 weeks of treatment with the new drug. A quarter of them experienced a 70 percent improvement.

That was a better result than for patients given Abbott Laboratories's ABT.N anti-TNF drug Humira, known chemically as adalimumab, although the nature of the mid-stage clinical trial meant it was not possible to make a direct comparison.

In the 384-patient Phase II study, the drugs were given as monotherapy and Humira is known to produce better results when combined with the older drug methotrexate, Fleischmann noted.

“Adalimumab obviously works better with methorexate. JAK (Pfizer’s drug) may not need methotrexate,” he said.

Some results with the new drug were released on June 9, with more details outlined at the conference on Thursday.

Pfizer's new drug is a potential competitor not only for Humira, which sold $4.5 billion last year, but also Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N and Schering-Plough's SGP.N Remicade, Amgen AMGN.O and Wyeth's WYE.N Enbrel, and UCB's UCB.BR Cimzia.


Richard Parkes, a research analyst at Piper Jaffray, said the threat from orally administered medicines was increasing and their profile had been raised by the “compelling” Pfizer data.

"This and other oral RA (rheumatoid arthritis) drugs currently in Phase II development from Incyte INCY.O and Rigel RIGL.O represent an increasing long-term threat," he said.

CP-690,550, which is given twice daily, is a so-called JAK-3 inhibitor that works by blocking enzymes involved in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

The most common adverse events were mild to moderate urinary tract infection, diarrhoea, bronchitis and headaches. There were also significant dose-dependent decreases in white blood cells and increases cholesterol, which Fleischmann said were “manageable”.

Pfizer started a large final-stage Phase III clinical programme with CP-690,550 February. It is also studying the drug as a potential treatment for other autoimmune diseases, including psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease, and for the prevention of organ rejection following transplant. (Editing by David Cowell)