Wednesday, December 12, 2007
In January, Pfizer Inc. announced it was closing its storied research laboratories here, laying off 2,100 people. Among the casualties: Bob Sliskovic, a 23-year lab veteran who helped create the world's most successful drug.
The closure and Dr. Sliskovic's abrupt change of circumstances are emblematic of the pharmaceutical industry's declining fortunes. It was at the Ann Arbor facility in the late 1980s that Dr. Sliskovic first assembled the chemicals that make up Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug that has generated about $80 billion in sales since its launch and ranks as the bestselling pharmaceutical product ever. Today, Lipitor is nearing the end of its patent life, and Pfizer hasn't been able to come up with enough promising new drugs to replace it.
Following that initial breakthrough some 20 years ago, Dr. Sliskovic worked on several other research projects, but none panned out. His losing streak mirrors the industry's. A byproduct of the late-19th-century chemical business, pharmaceutical research thrived for more than a century by finding chemical combinations to treat diseases. But after contributing substantially both to human health and drug-industry profits, it has failed to produce significant innovations in recent years. . . .
Ezra Klein also points to other issues facing the drug industry, including many problematic patent law issues.