TRENTON, N.J. — Pfizer Inc. is shifting its drug research focus to diseases that have high potential for big profits and for treatment improvements in such fields as cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
The world's biggest drug maker also is ending new research on conditions including obesity and heart disease, but research on drugs already in late-stage human testing will continue, spokeswoman Liz Power said Tuesday.
Experts said such tweaking of research strategy is standard in the pharmaceutical industry -- and needed periodically as new competition and other factors affect revenue.
Pfizer expects to spend as much as $7.5 billion on research and development this year, a huge budget for the industry.
"Even though it is very large, it is finite," Power said.
Like most of its competitors, Pfizer has been reorganizing and cutting costs to deal with looming generic competition and a lack of blockbusters in its pipeline.
Power said Pfizer needed to focus research, particularly costly late-stage human testing, on areas where patient needs aren't met by existing treatments, where there's a sizable commercial market and where the company has expertise and a good chance for scientific success.
The New York-based company has identified six priority areas for future research: cancer, pain, inflammation, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.
"They're basically looking at the largest-margin, largest-market indications," said analyst Steve Brozak of WBB Securities.
Pfizer has increasingly been investing in cancer research and probably now will move into treatments for pain and inflammation that work through different mechanisms than its blockbuster Celebrex, he said. The focus on diabetes probably will be on the type linked to the Western obesity epidemic, and Alzheimer's also will be a huge market, given the aging population. And there are "no satisfactory cures whatsoever" for schizophrenia, Brozak added.
Areas where the company is ending research, much of it still in early stages, include anemia, bone health, gastrointestinal disorders, muscle diseases, obesity and some approaches to osteoarthritis. The company also is dropping early research in four areas of cardiac disease: hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, heart failure and peripheral arterial disease.
Pfizer shares rose 79 cents, or 4.5%, to $18.44.