Neurodegenerative diseases and their accompanying psychiatric symptoms are among the most devastating disorders, often robbing patients of their dignity, awareness, and ability to conduct life’s most basic daily activities. By most estimates, neurologic diseases account for more disability and cost than any other disease category. Whether through the slow loss of memory and self in Alzheimer’s disease, the crippling loss of motor function in Parkinson’s disease or the change in mood and motivation that often accompanies these conditions; nervous system disorders present an enormous scientific and social challenge.
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The brain is a complex organ with discreet and unique neuronal structures. It is the root of our consciousness, emotions, language, memory, and movement, making it a scientific puzzle researchers are still struggling to put together. In recent years scientists have uncovered new insights on the brain thanks to the decoding of the human genome, greater understanding of brain physiology, the application of a systems and circuitry approach, and more precise imaging technologies.
Time is of the essence as an aging population will only increase the burden of neurodegenerative diseases.1 More than 10 million people worldwide are already living with Parkinson’s disease, while another 46 million have Alzheimer’s or related dementias.2,3 By midcentury, these figures could triple.4,5
Neuroscience is at an inflection point. The confluence of new technologies for visualizing brain function, advances in human genetics and personalized medicine, and our understanding of brain cell biology and neural circuitry presents an unprecedented opportunity to understand and treat brain disorders. Today, more than ever, we are able to identify specific patients and what is unique about their underlying biology that is driving their specific constellation of symptoms and disease progression path. Precision medicine is embedded into everything we do, helping us unravel specific clues into how individual patients will benefit from a certain therapy. By better understanding how diseases manifest differently in different individuals, and tailoring potential treatments, we believe we will have greater success in providing meaningful treatment.
Pfizer is seizing opportunities in neuroscience research by mobilizing its industry-leading strengths in small molecules, antibodies, peptides, vaccines, and other biomolecules. Pfizer’s Neuroscience Research Unit is focused on investigating potential cures and therapies for diseases such as:
Learn more about Pfizer's Research in Parkinson’s Disease
We're working to deepen our understanding of the brain and the central nervous system to treat not just symptoms, but the underlying causes of disease. While there is still a lot of work to do, the momentum is helping Pfizer and the industry at large to progress in neuroscience research.
Pfizer Taps IBM for Research Collaboration to Transform Parkinson’s Care
Work with Us
If you’re interested in collaborating with our Neuroscience and Pain research teams, visit our Neuroscience Partnering pages to learn more about the work we are pursuing.
Blocks after Body
Meet Some of Pfizer’s Neuroscience Researchers
Morris J. Birnbaum, MD, PhD
Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer of Internal Medicine
Morris Birnbaum, MD, PhD, is Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for the Internal Medicine Research Unit, comprising Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease as well as Neuroscience research. Specifically in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease, Dr. Birnbaum guides the discovery of novel transformative therapies to reduce the prevalence of cardiometabolic dysfunction, thereby eliminating or diminishing the impact of heart diseases on life expectancy and quality. He is responsible for setting the portfolio and technology strategies to bring programs from initial discovery through to proof of concept in the clinic.
Dr. Birnbaum completed his undergraduate, graduate, and medical training at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island before moving to St. Louis to carry out clinical training in Internal Medicine at Barnes Hospital of Washington University School of Medicine. He then performed postdoctoral studies at the University of California, San Francisco and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute. Following an associate professorship in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania as Professor of Medicine and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, where he later became Associate Dean for Biomedical Cores and Associate Director of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. Dr. Birnbaum was elected to membership in the American Society for Clinical Investigation and Association of American Physicians, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served as Deputy Editor for the Journal of Clinical Investigation and is currently on the Editorial board of Cell Metabolism. His research involves the study of insulin action, metabolism and how organisms respond to both a deficit and a surfeit of food.
Gayathri Ramaswamy, PhD
Lab Head, Senior Principal Scientist
Gayathri Ramaswamy, PhD, is a Lab Head, Senior Principal Scientist at Pfizer’s Neuroscience Research Unit. She is currently leading two drug discovery programs for treating neurodegenerative diseases. The apolipoprotein E program is pursuing apolipoprotein E as a therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease and the glucocerebrosidase program is focused on glucocerebrosidase as a target for treating Parkinson’s disease. Other areas of research in her laboratory include understanding the underlying mechanisms that regulate apolipoprotein E in the brain, mechanistic role of apolipoprotein E4 in Alzheimer's disease, delineating the effect of apolipoprotein E isoforms in traumatic brain injury and investigating tau as a therapeutic target for Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr. Ramaswamy obtained her PhD from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, University of Tennessee (Memphis) and did her post-doctoral training at Gladstone Institute of Neurological Diseases, University of California San Francisco. She has co-authored several peer-reviewed publications and patents, with more than 18 years of experience in lipid metabolism and is considered an expert in apolipoprotein E and its role in Alzheimer's disease. She has made seminal contributions to understanding the underlying mechanism(s) by which apolipoprotein E contributes to Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, Dr. Ramaswamy is an expert in small molecule phenotypic screen deconvolution, molecular biology and cell biology. She has also developed reagents for identifying bio-threat agents (Department of Homeland Security) and for evaluating target gene expression.
Julie Brooks, PhD
Julie Brooks, PhD, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow within Pfizer’s Neuroscience Research Unit. Her current project focuses on optogenetic assessment of information integration in the ventral striatum. This work contributes towards an understanding of the brain circuitry underlying deficits in cognition associated with a variety of neurological disorders.
Dr. Brooks received her PhD from The Ohio State University where she examined how early developmental perturbations of the corticolimbic system alter the functional maturation of the cortex and contribute to cognitive deficits seen in schizophrenia.
Tarek Samad, PhD
Head of Neuroinflammation Research
Tarek Samad, PhD, is a Pfizer Investigator and the Head of the Neuroinflammation Research Group at Pfizer’s Neuroscience Research Unit. The group investigates emerging scientific concepts, and identifies and validates therapeutic targets for innovative medicines in neurological and neurodegenerative disorders. Over the past ten years, Dr. Samad’s work in academic and pharmaceutical arenas has focused on studying adaptive and maladaptive inflammatory and neuroimmune interactions and their implications in neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr. Samad received his Master’s and PhD degrees in molecular and cellular neurobiology with a focus on dopaminergic pathways in neurodegenerative diseases, from Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France. He also holds a Master’s degree in Genetic Engineering. He joined Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and became a faculty. During his tenure at Harvard, Dr. Samad’s group investigated and shed light on novel molecular and cellular mechanisms of neuroimmune modulation and their contribution to brain pathologies. Dr. Samad also studied Bone Morphogenetic Protein signaling in the nervous system and identified a novel family of Bone Morphogenetic Protein co-receptors with members modulating neuronal regeneration after nerve injury, and iron homeostasis. His work contributed to the founding of Ferrumax Pharmaceuticals in which Dr. Samad is an unaffiliated co-founder.
He is the recipient of several awards including the Pfizer Investigator Tenure Award recognizing and enabling scientific leaders. In his present position, Dr. Samad leads and participates in multiple preclinical and clinical programs at Pfizer and manages multi-site and multi-disciplinary teams focused on bringing novel chemical and biological entities to the clinic. He has published over 45 articles, with publications in prominent scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Neuron and Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Selected Publications from the Neuroscience Research Unit
- Apolipoprotein E4 Domain Interaction Induces Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress and Impairs Astrocyte Function The Journal of Biological Chemistry Zhong N, Ramaswamy G, Weisgraber KH. October 2 2009
- Apolipoprotein E4 domain interaction: Synaptic and cognitive deficits in mice Alzheimer's and Dementia - The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association Zhong N, Scearce-Levie K, Ramaswamy G, Weisgraber KH. May 2008
- Cloning and Characterization of a Eukaryotic Pantothenate Kinase Gene (panK) from Aspergillus nidulans The Journal of Biological Chemistry Calder RB, Williams RBW, Ramaswamy G, Rock CO, Campbell E, Unkles SE, Kinghorn JR, Jackowski S. January 22 1999
- Discovery of the Potent and Selective M1 PAM-Agonist N-[(3R,4S)-3-Hydroxytetrahydro-2H-pyran-4-yl]-5-methyl-4-[4-(1,3-thiazol-4-yl)benzyl]pyridine-2-carboxamide (PF-06767832): Evaluation of Efficacy and Cholinergic Side Effects. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry Davoren JE, Lee CW, Garnsey M, Brodney MA, Cordes J, Dlugolenski K, Edgerton JR, Harris AR, Helal CJ, Jenkinson S1, Kauffman GW, Kenakin TP2, Lazzaro JT, Lotarski SM, Mao Y, Nason DM, Northcott C, Nottebaum L1, O'Neil SV, Pettersen B, Popiolek M, Reinhart V, Salomon-Ferrer R, Steyn SJ, Webb D, Zhang L, Grimwood S. July 1 2016
- Effect of domain interaction on apolipoprotein E levels in mouse brain Journal of Neuroscience Ramaswamy G, Xu Q, Huang Y, Weisgraber KH. November 16 2005
- First-In-Human safety and long-term exposure data for AAB-003 (PF-05236812) and biomarkers after intravenous infusions of escalating doses in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease Alzheimer's Research & Therapy Delnomdedieu M, Duvvuri S, Li DJ, Atassi N, Lu M, Brashear HR, Liu E, Ness S, Kupiec JW. March 1 2016
- Inhibition of glucosylceramide synthase stimulates autophagy flux in neurons. Journal of Neurochemistry Shen W, Henry AG, Paumier KL, Li L, Mou K, Dunlop J, Berger Z, Hirst WD. June 2014
- Leucine-rich Repeat Kinase 2 (LRRK2) Pharmacological Inhibition Abates α-Synuclein Gene-induced Neurodegeneration. The Journal of Biological Chemistry Daher JP, Abdelmotilib HA, Hu X, Volpicelli-Daley LA, Moehle MS, Fraser KB, Needle E, Chen Y, Steyn SJ, Galatsis P, Hirst WD, West AB. August 7 2015
- Olanzapine Treatment of Adolescent Rats Alters Adult D2 Modulation of Cortical Inputs to the Ventral Striatum International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology Brooks JM, O’Donnell P, Frost DO. October 19 2016
- Passive immunotherapy targeting amyloid-β reduces cerebral amyloid angiopathy and improves vascular reactivity. Brain, A Journal of Neurology Bales KR, O'Neill SM, Pozdnyakov N, Pan F, Caouette D, Pi Y, Wood KM, Volfson D, Cirrito JR, Han BH, Johnson AW, Zipfel GJ, Samad TA. October 22 2015
- Pathogenic LRRK2 mutations, through increased kinase activity, produce enlarged lysosomes with reduced degradative capacity and increase ATP13A2 expression. Human Molecular Genetics Henry AG, Aghamohammadzadeh S, Samaroo H, Chen Y, Mou K, Needle E, Hirst WD. August 6 2015
- PDE4B as a microglia target to reduce neuroinflammation. GLIA Pearse DD, Hughes ZA. April 1 2016
- PPARα controls the intracellular coenzyme A concentration via regulation of PANK1α gene expression Journal of Lipid Research The Journal of Biological Chemistry Calder RB, Williams RSB, Ramaswamy G, Rock CO, Campbell E, Unkles SE, Kinghorn JR, Jackowski S. January 2004
- Tool compounds robustly increase turnover of an artificial substrate by glucocerebrosidase in human brain lysates. PLoS One Berger Z, Perkins S, Ambroise C, Oborski C, Calabrese M, Noell S, Riddell D, Hirst WD. March 12 2015