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Study: New Pfizer Drug No Better Than Old

When it comes to anti-infective drugs, Pfizer (PFE) is finding out that newer doesn't necessarily mean better -- even if it costs more.

That's the theme of a recent research article and editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that Pfizer's antifungal Eraxis works no better than a cheaper generic antifungal called fluconazole.

Although prices of Eraxis and similar brand-name antifungals have "dropped substantially," they remain "several-fold higher than that of generic fluconazole," says the editorial. "There is absolutely no justification for abandoning fluconazole, given its safety, overall efficacy and low cost."

The editorial and research article, both issued late Wednesday afternoon, are rich with irony. Fluconazole is the generic name for Pfizer's Diflucan, and Eraxis was seen as a successor to this drug , which lost patent protection in July 2004.

Last year's Diflucan sales were $435 million, down from $498 million in 2005 and $945 million in 2004. Pfizer doesn't list sales of Eraxis, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in February 2006.

Eraxis, fluconazole and similar drugs fight invasive candidiasis, a fungal infection that spreads through the bloodstream. Its most dangerous form, called candidemia, strikes 60,000 people in the U.S. each year and kills 40% of those afflicted, Pfizer says. The drugs also treat other infections caused by the Candida fungus.

One other irony of the Eraxis study is that the company-sponsored research achieved its goals -- showing that Eraxis was no worse than fluconazole. In medical parlance, this is called a non-inferiority study.

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