Will This Drug Be a Blockbuster for Pfizer?

drugsPharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) announced Monday that the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare approved its new rheumatoid arthritis drug, Xeljanz, for use in patients whose symptoms have not improved after trying at least on other treatment for the disease.

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While other treatments for rheumatoid arthritis merely relieve joint pain and inflammation, reported The Associated Press, Xeljanz is aimed at slowing the increasingly debilitating effects of the autoimmune disorder. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the body, the joints in particular, and this limits mobility and occasionally causes fingers to bend at painful angles. This chronic disease — which can also affect the lungs, heart, eyes, and nerves — generally becomes worse over time. However, the progression of the disease can be delayed with aggressive treatment, noted the publication.

Xeljanz, whose chemical name is tofacitinib, is the first approved treatment in a new type of medicines, known as Janus kinase inhibitors. Pfizer’s twice-a-day pill works at a cellular level, blocking the Janus kinase enzyme’s signal pathways, which are involved in the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis…

Other treatments, including injectable biologic drugs such as Amgen’s (NASDAQ:AMGN) Enbrel and Remicade, operate outside the body’s cells, slowing the progression of the disease by “broadly suppressing the immune system,” stated the AP. However, these drugs are expensive, must be injected or infused, and cause unpleasant side-effects that range from persistent fevers to increased susceptibility to tuberculosis.

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Pfizer — the world’s biggest drugmaker in terms of revenue, expects to access a large market with the drug. About 750,000 people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in Japan while more 23.7 million people worldwide are affected by the disorder. Additionally, approximately one-third of all patients do not respond adequately to current treatments and about half of all patients end these treatments within five years, according to the drugmaker.

In the United States, where Xeljanz was approved last November, the drug has the potential to be a big seller for Pfizer as well, stated the publication.

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