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Is Exubera the Last Nail in Pfizer’s Coffin?

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Last Fall, the Wall Street Journal heralded the
impending death of Exubera, an inhaled insulin. 
When Exubera was first approved in 2006, Pfizer had high hopes for the
drug and touted its simplicity of use for patients.  Early predictions were that sales of Exubera
might top $1.5 billion within four years of the drug’s introduction.  Pfizer’s fairy tale ending apparently wasn’t in
the cards with regard to Exubera.

In the Fall of 2007, Pfizer
acknowledged that Exubera had failed to meet the company’s financial objectives
and planned to phase out the product. 
This decision was rather costly to Pfizer’s bottom line with charges and
write-offs of nearly $3 billion.  Just
months after Pfizer thought that it had written the final chapter on the costly
Exubera debacle, a clinical study showed that there may be an increased risk of
lung cancer associated with the drug, and that it may be particularly dangerous
when used by smokers and patients with significant lung disease.

Earlier this year, John Buse, a president of the American Diabetes Association, told the AP: “I think Pfizer will wish they had never gotten
into this. I doubt they’ll regain their investment.” He explained:”There is no
advantage to Exubera and there may be a safety risk. I see it as my job to talk
people out of (using) it.”

In a chat with the Health Blog at the time, Buse said his concerns were
centered mostly on younger patients, whose blood sugar can be harder to control
and whose lungs are more vulnerable. For these patients, Buse said, “I’m going
to make it sound pretty bad: ‘A., You may have to take it for a long time and
we only have three-year safety data. B. You’re going to carry this crazy thing
(picture, upper left) that’s the size of a can of Coke. You’re going to be
mixing packets before meals. People are going to think you’re doing drugs. Why
would you do that?’ ”