Akzo Nobel has been hit hard by the news that Pfizer is to pull out of the firms’ collaboration on a new schizophrenia drug which is seen as a vital part of the planned flotation of the Dutch group’s pharmaceutical unit, Organon.

Pfizer’s decision to discontinue its role in the development of asenapine “is an outcome of a commercial analysis of the compound” and will return all product rights, intellectual property and data to Organon. The news comes on the tail of an announcement by Akzo in October that the antipsychotic is facing a delay after mixed results were reported from a Phase III clinical trial.

Nevertheless, Akzo says it is determined to carry on with the development of asenapine, and chief executive Toon Wilderbeek said the firm remains “fully committed” to the initial public offering process of Organon. Nevertheless the Pfizer pull-out also offers a number of other options.

This could include a search to find a new development and marketing partner for the drug or possibly an outright sale of the business, and Mr Wilderbeek confirmed that the company would consider “all alternatives to maximise shareholder value.” It is thought that a straightforward trade sale of Organon could raise around 9 billion euros, much more than an IPO.

Regardless of what step Akzo takes next, further questions are being raised as to whether asenapine will ever achieve its potential of becoming a blockbuster drug. The schizophrenia market is a lucrative one, but it is also highly competitive. Any new drug will have to take on the likes of Johnson & Johnson’s Risperdal (risperidone), Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa (olanzapine), Pfizer’s Geodon (ziprasidone), AstraZeneca’s Seroquel (quetiapine) and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Abilify (aripiprazole).