Done deal: Pfizer buys Wyeth for $68 billion

Pfizer-Wyeth merger

The New York Times puts it this way:

The deal, if completed, would not only create a pharmaceutical behemoth but would be a rarity in the current financial tumult: a big acquisition that is not a desperate merger of two banks orchestrated by the government. [emphasis mine]

Funny the writers decided to add that. A year ago, that clause would have never been considered yet alone thought of.

Pfizer isn’t doing badly; in fact, despite the credit crunch, they’ve been able to snag $22.5 billion in loans since they also have $26 billion cash on hand. The NYTimes also reports that this merger would be the biggest since AT&T and BellSouth merged back in March 2006. But of course, with mergers always come layoffs. And what a time to have layoffs. Pfizer today announced that they’ll be cutting 8,000 jobs.

But as I said in a previous post, Pfizer’s biggest challenge is get some pipeline products out to market soon since some of the patents on their big names (ie, Lipitor) are expiring soon. Don’t hold me to this but I think Wyeth has a bit more sitting in their pipeline, hence why the merger would make sense. But I hope Wyeth can produce a new blockbuster drug for Pfizer otherwise Pfizer’s really going to be hurting for money. Especially since Wyeth’s best-selling drug, Effexor, is now generic and Pristiq isn’t completely cutting it.

Pfizer may be buying Wyeth

Pfizer-Wyeth merger

Is Wyeth being hurt by the failing economy? I’m not so sure but Pfizer may be buying up Wyeth for up to $60 million. According to news reports, this could help the pharmaceutical giant by bringing in some of Wyeth’s brand name products while many of Pfizer’s own manufactures (think Lipitor) go generic. However, it could also be a drawback as one of Wyeth’s biggest sellers—our favorite antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine)—has gone generic. Also, Pfizer doesn’t have the best track record of buying up other companies and turning them into blockbuster gold. Should be interesting to see what happens in the next few years if the deal does go through.

Wyeth Pushing Pristiq Hard

PristiqThe Wall Street Journal reports that Wyeth, desperate to make money off of its Effexor XR-knockoff, Pristiq, says it will slash the antidepressant at a 20% discount compared to Effexor’s price. The price slash, CNN money reports, is a result of less-than-impressive clinical trial data on Pristiq’s “safety and effectiveness.”

Wyeth SVP Joe Mahady told analysts that Pristiq will sell for a flat $3.41 per tablet for both mid- and high-dose, Dow Jones Newswires’ Peter Loftus reports.

Wyeth, apparently, has done this in the past. Back when it was known as American Home Products, the company slashed its price on Protonix, its heartburn drug, to compete with AstraZeneca’s Prilosec. The drug generated $1.9 billion in profits for Wyeth last year. CNN Money reports that Teva Pharmaceuticals and Sun Pharmaceuticals began selling the generic version of the drug and handily cut into Wyeth’s profits: the company reported a 4.6% decline in profit and a 66% drop in sales for the drug for the first-quarter. What will happen with Pristiq remains to be seen. I’m not sure that doctors in 2010 will want to dole out prescriptions for Pristiq when they can save patients—and insurance companies—money by prescribing what will then be known as venlafaxine. WSJ also notes:

A month’s supply of sertraline (Pfizer’s old hit Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Lilly’s Prozac) goes for 50 cents a day at drugstore.com.

$3.41 or $0.50 per tablet. It wouldn’t surprise me if some insurance companies choose to exclude Pristiq from its list of covered drugs. Regardless, Wyeth expects sales of the drug to exceed $1 billion in its first year.

The drug will hit the shelves in May.

Neurontin 0, Placebo 1. Pfizer loses, Placebo wins.

Stephany at soulful sepulcher has a post up on how Neurontin has not shown itself to be more effective for bipolar disorder than placebo in clinical trials.

It's actually kind of funny that this discovery has been made in April 2008 because I'd reported on this back in January of 2007:

So let's recap: gabapentin is FDA-approved for epilepsy ONLY. But gabapentin has a slew of off-label uses.

Don't know what off-label means? It means "not FDA-approved to be prescribed for this use."

Now that we've got that out of the way, gabapentin is prescribed off-label for migraines, bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, OCD, treatment-resistant depression, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, and in some instances, post-operative chronic pain.

Where did this off-label usage come from? Basically, one journal article published data on beneficial effects for patients on Neurontin for bipolar disorder and then other articles would cite that article as supporting evidence then more articles cited all the other articles that published the positive efficacy data on the drug, creating what UNC researcher Tim Carey calls the "echo chamber effect."  From Fierce Pharma:

Hearing it over and over, doctors were led to believe that Neurontin worked for bipolar patients, and prescribed it to lots and lots of them.

These articles that touted the benefits of Neurontin were cited 400 times. Carey:

It “becomes a rumor mill in which physicians may be exposed to these types of articles, and citations of articles, which then gives credibility to off-label use.”

The conclusion?

“No scientifically acceptable clinical trial evidence supports use” of the drug in bipolar disorder.

Ouch. Hitting Pfizer where it hurts.

Pittman, Zoloft, and akathisia revisited

Christopher PittmanI’ve written about Christopher Pittman, now 19, who confessed to shooting and killing his grandparents when he was on psych meds at the age of 12. He appealed for a Supreme Court hearing but was denied, CNN reported today. He — and his defenders — appealed on the grounds that his 30-year sentence was “excessive for someone that age” and that the dosage of his antidepressants at the time (200 mg) “sent his mind spinning out of control.” Pittman was tried as an adult and, his lawyers argue, “no other inmate in the United States is serving so severe a sentence for a crime committed at such an early age.”

In previous posts here and here, I’ve questioned the link between Zoloft and violence/rage. Pittman, in 2001, had been switched to Zoloft a few days before the murder of his grandparents. However, it sounds like there had been some emotional problems in Pittman’s life that may have given prosecutors a solid case:

At the time of the crime, the boy had bounced around homes for years, experiencing a half dozen family splits and divorces after his mother had twice abandoned him as a child. She has not been in Pittman’s life for years.

Joe Pittman, the boy’s father, raised Christopher Pittman and his sister for much of their lives, but the relationship between father and son deteriorated. A state psychologist later testified this was a “young man who’d had difficulty with the adults in his life.”

On November 28, 2001, Pittman was sent home early for fighting in school and sent to bed by the grandparents. The boy claimed his “Pop-Pop” also beat him with a belt as punishment.

South Carolina prosecutors may easily have set Pittman up as a disturbed young man, which he very well may have been. But there are indications that this disturbance transcended his emotional state into his mental health:

After threatening to harm himself and suffering other emotional incidents, the boy was diagnosed as clinically depressed. His lawyers said Pittman was then given Paxil, a mild antidepressant no longer recommended for those under 18.

Just days before [shooting his grandparents], a doctor had begun prescribing Zoloft, another antidepressant. The family contends the abrupt substitution of drugs caused a bad chemical reaction, triggering violent outbursts.

At trial, a parade of psychiatrists offered conflicting testimony on whether the boy’s emotional problems excused his criminal behavior. Prosecutors called the Zoloft defense a “smokescreen.”

Juror Steven Platt later told CNN the crime appeared deliberate. “It always seemed like the defense was grasping at straws,” he said. “Just because you take prescription medicine doesn’t mean you can’t be held accountable for your actions.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Zoloft-rage/violence connection

[This post is quite lengthy so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and read it. The following is not for the faint of heart (or those with a lack of time).]

It’s been amazing to me that I’ve received numerous comments on Zoloft inducing rage. I’m humbled by having a Pittman supporter visit my site and post some comments from the ChristopherPittman.org forums. Read the following:

In my senior year in high school I was diagnosed as being severely depressed and put on medication. The first medication that I was on I took for 5 months and it made me really aggressive. My friends and family noticed the change and I told my doctor about it and she changed my meds. After that I was fine. I am normally a very passive person and will let just about anything fly. But the medication made me really aggravated and aggressive toward my friends and family and it seemed that I wasn’t overcoming my depression. I just got done watching the 48 hours investigation on the Discovery Times Channel and felt a connection with Chris. I felt that I had to write this to let you know that Chris is not the only one out there that had these side effects. I think there should be a study done to see how many people that take antidepressants have increased aggression. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has deep pockets and many lobbyists. I hope this helps in some way.

And another:

I remember the case when it happened.

At the time I thought, “Zoloft right”.

Let me tell you my physician put me on Zoloft and it took about three weeks for my to become psychotic and I’m a 50 year old woman.

I have three children and I don’t make a lot of money but please let me know if I can do anything for the Pittman boy.

The jury should have been placed on Zoloft before they made they decision. Unless you’ve experience it you simply cannot believe its’ effect.

Brynn and Phil HartmanI did a bit of quick reading/research into Zoloft triggering violence in people who otherwise would have never been violent and it seems that are a few stories out there to support the assertion. I found a few comments on depressionblog.com that mentioned a link between Zoloft and rage fits. A Salon.com article published a story antidepressants inducing rage in 1999. Apparently, Brynn Hartman, the wife of famous comedian Phil Hartman, killed herself and her husband while taking Zoloft. While close friends attribute the sudden behavior on the antidepressant, others attribute it to a combination of the medication with cocaine and alcohol in her system. (Zoloft does have a warning against alcohol use in conjunction with the drug.)

One interesting thing I learned from the article is that this kind of behavior is often labeled under the name akathisia on patient safety guides. Most – if not all – of the major antidepressants list akathisia as a side effect. Here’s the initial description of this condition from Wikipedia:

Akathisia, or acathisia, is an unpleasant subjective sensation of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless… Its most common cause is as a side effect of medications, mainly neuroleptic antipsychotics especially the phenothiazines (such as perphenazine and chlorpromazine), thioxanthenes (such as flupenthixol and zuclopenthixol) and butyrophenones (such as haloperidol (Haldol)), and rarely, antidepressants.

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety (which may be easily overlooked) to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom).

No real mention of extreme anger or irritability mentioned there. But if you read on…

The 2006 U.K. study by Healy, Herxheimer, and Menkes observed that akathisia is often miscoded in antidepressant clinical trials as “agitation, emotional lability, and hyperkinesis (overactivity)”. The study further points out that misdiagnosis of akathisia as simple motor restlessness occurs, but that this is more properly classed as dyskinesia. Healy, et. al., further show links between antidepressant-induced akathisia and violence, including suicide, as akathisia can “exacerbate psychopathology.” The study goes on to state that there is extensive clinical evidence correlating akathisia with SSRI use, showing that approximately ten times as many patients on SSRIs as those on placebos showed symptoms severe enough to drop out of a trial (5.0% compared to 0.5%).

Read the rest of this entry »

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Wow. I learned something new – “Women are over-represented in all cases of” depression, anxiety, dysthymia and panic attacks. Read more here.


An interesting observation from Gretchen Rubin, blogger of The Happiness Project.

“Studies showed that depressed people have as many nice experiences as non-depressed people, but they remember them less well.”


Graham’s Blog has linked to interesting fashion jewelry: Made with Molecules. For only $20, you can:

“Display your favorite neurotransmitters close to your brain!”

Erhm. The very thought of this disturbs me. Also feel free to purchase a serotonin-happiness card or a dopamine-heart card – just in time for Valentine’s Day.

dopamine heart card

Pfizer is cutting 10,000 from its workforce citing nothing other than loss of profits:

“The drug giant Pfizer said Monday that it would lay off 10,000 workers and close several manufacturing and research sites in an effort to bolster earnings hurt by the loss of patent protection on certain drugs and by setbacks in developing new products.”

I’ve mentioned patent protection before but it seems that Pfizer isn’t generating enough “structurally related” drugs to prevent the loss of its profits to generics. The two biggest losses: Zoloft and Zithromax.

“Pfizer said the moves would save $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year in pretax expenses.

Pharmaceutical industry analysts have generally been welcoming cutbacks by Pfizer but have said that while cost-cutting is beneficial, the company needs to resume growth by bringing new products to market.”

Pfizer’s a big company; I’m sure they’ll have no problems rebounding. However, I have no doubt that the failed torcetrapib factored into Pfizer’s decision to cut staffers.


A Philly plaintiff in the Vioxx suit against Merck has willingly withdrawn her suit. She cannot refile against Merck.

“Merck has consistently said it will fight each case on a one by one basis rather than submit to a large settlement.

In trials that have reached a jury verdict so far, Merck has won nine and lost four, including one Merck victory that since has been thrown out.”

The legal fees surrounding the Merck case must be astounding, but is it really worth it for Merck to drag these cases out against 27,000 other plaintiffs? I would assume on Merck’s part that it would be cheaper to settle. But then again, maybe it’s the whole “we need to clear our name” thing. That’s a fast way to lose profits for a pharma company.

Neurontin: Pfizer and Eli Lilly share a common history

My mother-in-law was telling me yesterday about how her hairdresser’s daughter has been diagnosed bipolar with OCD characteristics. She says her daughter’s on “Neo-something” – she couldn’t quite remember the name.

I racked my brain for a bipolar med name that began with “n.” Nothing really came to mind except for neurontin. I told myself, “No, that can’t be right. Isn’t that associated with VNS?”

Nope; Neurontin really is a medication associated with bipolar disorder. Neurontin’s generic name is gabapentin.

Neurontin (gabapentin)

Read the rest of this entry »

Pharmaceutical roundup

AbilifyNearly every mental health blog I know is talking about this post from intueri.org. It’s definitely worth the read. I don’t know much about Abilify, but I don’t think most uneducated bipolars know that it is prescribed specifically for those with psychosis. On the flip side, I don’t think uneducated PCPs know that tidbit either. A person with bipolar without symptoms of psychosis who asks for Abilify may be in for a rude awakening. [UPDATE: Who paid this chick? I only skimmed the post but I don’t see any negative side effects listed.]

I’m not deep into the pharmaceutical industry like all of these heavyweights: CL Psych, PharmaGossip, and Furious Seasons, among many others whom I may have failed to mention. However, there’s a wealth of information to be found. My newest discovery:

“The approach is called ‘ethical pharmaceuticals,’ and it was unveiled on January 2 by Sunil Shaunak, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College, and Steve Brocchini of the London School of Pharmacy, the Guardian reports. Their team of scientists in India and the UK, financed by the prestigious Wellcome with technical assistance from the UK government, have developed a method of making small but significant changes to the molecular structure of existing drugs, thereby transforming them into new products, circumventing the long-term patents used by the corporate giants of Big Pharma to keep prices – and profits – high. [emphasis mine] This will give the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people access to life-saving medicines – now priced out of reach – for mere pennies.”

I read the above on CLPsych’s blog (originally from Chris Floyd at truthout) and couldn’t believe what I was reading. It somewhat ties into what I’ve been researching about Neurontin (which will probably be posted later in the day):

“Pfizer has developed a successor to gabapentin [Neurontin’s generic name], called pregabalin (being marketed as Lyrica®). Structurally related to gabapentin [emphasis mine], pregabalin is effective for neuropathic pain associated with diabetes and shingles, and for the treatment of epilepsy and seizures.”

Pfizer, in an attempt to distance itself from the trouble surrounding Neurontin, developed another medicine – pregabalin, which is similarly structured to gabapentin. Pfizer can now claim, “Don’t like Neurontin? You can have Lyrica instead!” Pfizer also tried to pass off the (illegal) off-label marketing practices with Neurontin off to their acquired division Parke-Davis. So now we’ve got two options: Pfizer either has learned from Parke-Davis’ issues with Neurontin or is pretty stupid and pushing Lyrica for off-label usage similar to that of Neurontin’s. No evidence to support either option… yet. But CLPsych delves into an interesting practice that Pharma companies use to circumvent a drug patent running out:

“News Flash — PhRMA does NOT believe in the free market: While PhRMA likes when the market works in their favor, they also believe in circumventing that same market when it comes to competition. When drugs are slated to come off-patent, which would allow generic version of the drug to be made, PhRMA members have increasingly turned to buying off the competition. That’s right; they simply pay the generic manufacturer to not make a generic version of the patented drug, so that the consumer can continue to pay a hefty price for the drug which is still under patent. [emphasis sorta mine]

Wow. That bit of information has left me speechless. Screw the consumer that can’t afford psych meds without health insurance; we as Big Pharma need our DAMN money!!! [end rant]

This practice, called “reverse payments,” is not something new and, at the current moment, is relatively legal. Supposedly, the FTC and the Department of Justice are keeping their eyes on reverse payments and patients can only imagine what might occur in the future. PharmaGossip has more, but slips this bit of info before linking to the Star-Ledger:

“And with the patents on 70 blockbuster drugs — with a total of $48 billion in annual sales — set to expire by 2011, the industry expects reverse-payment deals to proliferate further.”

The FTC and Justice Department better hurry up and step in so we can finally have a generic version of Lipitor!

In all honesty, my mind can’t simply fathom the depths to which Pharma will stoop to make money. (Perhaps because I don’t work directly within the medical industry.) It has me wondering if Pharma is worse than gas companies. Is OPEC more trustworthy than Eli Lilly? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Absolutely crazy

PfizerThis has nothing to do with psych meds but I recently learned through the Clinical Psychology blog and Pharma Marketing blog that Pfizer supposedly spent more than $800 million on what was supposed to be their own competitor to Lipitor. The new drug, torcetrapib, needed to be halted because of safety concerns. It seems that quoted cost for the new drug is shady but it prompts the question of how much money pharmaceutical companies invest in new drugs.