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 libraries?

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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