BY CRAIG OFFMAN
The Globe and Mail

Around the time of the dot-com craze and the real-estate bubble, Big Pharma was banking its own big money on neurology’s holy grail: stroke medication. In the late 1990s and 2000s, Pfizer, Merck and other behemoths spent billions on the development of neuroprotectants, a class of drugs that defend brain cells from the brushfire-like damage wrought by stroke. In total, there were 1,026 trials.

Every one of them failed. The most notorious of the bunch was NXY-059, a bland name with a devastating legacy. U.K.-based AstraZeneca spent at least $300-million to develop it, and when the company broke the news of its failure in 2006, the share price dropped 7.5 per cent, translating into $7.7-billion in lost shareholder value. The shares of Renovis, the small biotech company that developed and licensed the drug, bottomed out, dropping more than 75 per cent.

NXY-059 wasn’t just another neuro-debacle. It arguably triggered what many call the “nuclear winter of stroke research,” a deep chill of pessimism that continues to this day.

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