Pfizer Adds UCSF as First Partner in Academic Network
Nov16

Pfizer Adds UCSF as First Partner in Academic Network

Pfizer has committed up to $85 million over five years to an expansive research agreement with the University of California, San Francisco, intended to speed the development of new biologic-based medications. More critically, the relationship with UCSF will be the first spoke in a network of academic collaborators, with Pfizer at the hub. Called the Center for Therapeutic Innovation, the goal is to bridge the gap between basic science and early clinical studies of potential drug candidates. Anthony Coyle, former head of respiratory, inflammation, and autoimmune disease research at MedImmune, will lead the network. Coyle says CTI will eventually be comprised of seven or eight partners: three or four in the U.S., one or two in Europe, and the remainder in Asia or Australia. Expect to see two more U.S.-based partners, one in NY and the other in Boston, added to the network by the end of the year, he adds. The creation of the CTI is Pfizer’s latest shake-up of the model for industry-academic collaborations. If you’ll recall, last spring, Pfizer caused a stir when it said it would give scientists from Washington University's School of Medicine access to data on 500 compounds that have gone through or are in some stage of clinical development. The hope is that fresh eyes with deep insights into the biology of disease and drug targets might lead to new uses for the compounds. See our recent cover story on the deal for much more detail on how that arrangement works. Ultimately, Pfizer hopes that by breaking down some of the barriers that have hindered an open exchange between industry and academia—the right to publish, ownership of intellectual property, shared profits on products, to name a few—it will be able to get new drugs to market faster. Coyle says the CTI will be solely focused on biologic-based drugs, mainly because he wants each center to be fairly autonomous and able to make decisions quickly. With the infrastructure required to develop small molecules, they would have had to rely on medicinal chemists “in distant locations,” and would run the risk of creating an “overburdened” project. The first step in the UCSF collaboration will be a trip by Coyle and other Pfizer executives to the campus in December to explain the program. Because Pfizer believes the projects will only work if scientists are working side-by-side, the company will set up new labs that can accommodate up to 40 scientists close to the UCSF campus. University scientists will have access not just to Pfizer’s drug development knowledge, but to its research tools—of particular note is that Pfizer is making its phage display libraries accessible to those...

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Washington University to Recycle Pfizer Compounds
May17

Washington University to Recycle Pfizer Compounds

Washington University will soon be shaking the dust off a large collection of Pfizer compounds. Pfizer will provide Washington University's School of Medicine with information related to 500 current and former clinical candidates, and the St. Louis scientists will look for new uses for the molecules. Oh, and Pfizer will also give WashU $22.5 million over the course of five years to fund the drug repositioning effort. The idea of finding new tricks for old drugs is not new: back in the day, a handful of companies like Gene Logic, CombinatoRx, Melior Discovery, Sosei, and Cyprus Biosciences all were peddling versions of drug repositioning services. Now, in a twist of PR speak that I can only guess is linked to the lack of success of many of those firms, what used to be universally called drug repurposing or repositioning, Pfizer is now calling “indications discovery.” Pfizer will open its preclinical lab books on the compounds to WashU, a move it says will significantly shorten the development process.  Overall, Pfizer calls the pact with WashU “a new approach in academia-industry collaborations” that could lead to more efficient drug development. As part of the pact, Pfizer’s Indications Discovery Unit will move from the company’s Chesterfield, Mo., site to the Center of Research Technology and Entrepreneurial Exchange biosciences district in St. Louis—a location conveniently located next door to Wash U’s med school. Pfizer has funded research at Wash U for decades. But as we wrote in a 2008 piece about pharma industry-academic collaborations, that relationship has recently become far more collaborative: Under the new approach, Washington University scientists across a range of disciplines make short research proposals related to immunology and inflammation. The proposals are reviewed by a joint steering committee cochaired by Seibert and Jeff Gordon, director of Washington University's Center for Genome Sciences. The academic researchers are then paired with Pfizer scientists to write a full proposal. "There is complete openness—no walls, no barriers," Seibert says. "The ideas develop collaboratively, and the focus often changes when our scientists come together to the table." After considering the full proposals, the steering committee chooses some to fund. Scientists from industry and academia then work as a team to complete the projects, with free access to the resources at their respective organizations. In fact, Seibert notes, these projects become goals and deliverables for the scientists' annual employee performance reviews at Pfizer. So, can WashU do a better job at recycling Pfizer’s old compounds than Pfizer did? Should other big pharma firms be shopping around their...

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