The Wall Street Journal today characterized the failure of Exubera as “one of the drug industry’s costliest failures ever.” Mike Krensavage, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates, was quoted in the same article as saying “This is one of the most stunning failures in the history of the pharmaceutical industry.” (See “Insulin Flop Costs Pfizer $2.8 Billion“; subscription required.)

We haven’t heard such comments since the sinking of the Titanic! So, the following image borrowed from PharmaGossip (see “Pfizer – Exubera: without a trace“) is spot on as the Brits would say.

Image source: PharmaGossip

[If you’d like to see more blog images depicting the failure of Exubera, see my post over at Pharma Blogosphere (“‘Round the Sphere: Best Exubera Failure Headline/Graphic. And the Winner is…“).]

There are plenty of other similarities between Exubera’s failure and the failure of the “unsinkable” Titanic. I am specifically talking about Pfizer’s hubris and marketing’s poisoned Kool Aid. Like the builders of the Titanic, the Exubera marketers felt they had an “unsinkable” product that would quickly reach blockbuster status and make the company a bundle.

According the WSJ, at a meeting with analysts in 2006, Karen Katen, president for human health and one of current Pfizer CEO Kindler’s rivals for the top job, told investors that their “average forecast for Exubera sales in 2010 — $1.15 billion — was too low; Pfizer put it closer to $2 billion.” Compare that to a Credit Suisse estimate of $8.7 billion in world-wide sales for all insulin in 2006.

Maybe the Pfizer board knew something was up last year when it ditched Ms. Katen and chose Kindler as CEO? Perhaps some of them even profited from the inflated Exubera sales estimates before side-lining Katen?

A Litany of Problems
WSJ: “Although the drug was approved in January, it wasn’t introduced fully until September because of manufacturing problems. Once on the market, diabetes specialists said it was hard to use. Patients need to insert packets of powder into the device measured in three or nine milligrams — not the units doctors are used to. The company had problems getting insurance companies to cover the treatment at a favorable rate, and a British medical committee said Britain’s health authorities shouldn’t pay for it at all because it didn’t offer advantages over less-expensive therapies. Exubera costs about $5 a day while injectible insulin costs about $2 to $3 a day.”

Pfizer marketers must have drunk their Kool Aid: “Still,” says WSJ, “Pfizer promoted the drug until the bitter end.”

What Are the Survivors Saying?
Pfizer employees have so far survived “one of the most stunning failures in the history of the pharmaceutical industry.” Here are some choice comments from posters over at the Pfizer Company board on CafePharma:

Wrong Drug, Wrong Time , Wrong Delivery System!
“This is the worst thing I have seen in 15 years – OUR NEW OFFICIAL POSITION IS SURRENDER – Jeff Kindler – you are the Jimmy Carter of corporate America – no better way to convey confidence than to give up – This drug had no chance from day 1 – the launch was an absolute joke – a standard by which all other companies should not launch drugs – partial targeting, limited supplies, selective call cycles. Then we tell the inept APN division that they are losing the drug months before they actually do – so what do they do?? Big shocker — they put it away for months – never talk about it, blow off contractual obligations to major targets who went to speaker training and were expecting to do talks — and then…. my favorite – we hot potatoe the drug to the division that is carrying our flagship 10billion dollar product on the eve of managed care annihilation – and fly thousands of reps to Arrowwood to be fed and lodged for days so they could watch a video conference that could have been done in a webcast at the cost of millions of dollars – we then get 6 months to raise this drug from the dead. And just when we getting some momentum — pull the plug – I am embarrassed beyond words – never thought I would live to see the day that the House That Steere Built would run from a challenge that was only a challenge because of the mistakes that we made. Lilly or Tekada would have made this a billion dollar drug – we don’t remember how to do that anymore”

A RESPONSE: “You are dead wrong here..neither Lilly or Takeda or anyone else could have made this piece of shit a $100m drug…wrong drug, wrong time , wrong delivery system..S/A knew it, do did the developer but hunted for idiots and found one! That drug was doomed but we were grasping for a winner, any winner to replace the lost drugs!” (Access Thread Here)

Pfizer Hubris
“You gotta be kidding, surely Pfizer knows this product is has absolutley (sic) no chance of success. Do they think that if they wish hard enough that it will turn into a blockbuster?”

A RESPONSE: “If you worked for Pfizer you’d know that Pfizer believes that by shear force of will they can do anything.

With enough will power you can make Exubera profitable.

With enough will power you can make employees happy.

With enough will power you can make black hole sites profitable.

With enough will power you can make a drug pipe line using only sycophants, politcians (sic) and diplomats as your researchers.
(Access Thread Here)

Life After Death?
“On a different note, doesn’t anyone realize that Exubera is a whole lot more than a drug? Its a new technology that will open the floodgates on development of other Pfizer medications that are currently only administered by injection. I believe the success of the process is worth more to the company than the product ever was going to be. I truly believe that the success of Exubera has already been attained in some eyes. Approved commercial use of a system that can take a liquid and safely convert it to be administered in an inhalable form. I once read somewhere that Terre Haute was being labeled by Pfizer as its Inhale production facility for the world. I think Exubera is just a piece in the proverbial puzzle for Terre Haute. The facility already has the square footage available to contain multiple product lines.”
(Access Thread Here)

P.S. Have you taken our “Kevlar Kindler” poll yet?

Will Kindler Survive the Exubera Bomb?