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Pfizer Launches Academic Network

UCSF will be the first partner in its Global Centers for Therapeutic Innovation

by Lisa M. Jarvis
November 16, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 47

Pfizer is forming a broad network of academic collaborators to accelerate the translation of basic science into biologics-based therapeutics. The University of California, San Francisco, has signed on as the first of what is expected to be seven or eight partners in Pfizer's Global Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI), based in Cambridge, Mass.

Pfizer will open labs adjacent to the UCSF campus, with 25 to 30 Pfizer scientists eventually working alongside university scientists to find new biologics targeting a range of diseases. Although Pfizer has an R&D site in South San Francisco, proximity to the UCSF campus was seen as critical to fostering "a true intellectual exchange," says Anthony J. Coyle, who will head CTI. Scientists will have access to Pfizer's phage display libraries and other research tools as they search for new drugs.

A call for proposals is going out to UCSF shortly, and a joint steering committee composed of four representatives each from Pfizer and the university will decide which projects to fund. Over the next three years, CTI expects to accept up to eight programs annually from UCSF.

Once a program is accepted, CTI will mete out funding on a milestone basis. Initially, CTI will give money to cover postdocs and the primary investigator's lab, and then the steering committee will decide whether a project should move forward to preclinical and clinical studies.

The venture capital-like approach to funding reflects the more challenging R&D environment for big pharma firms. "It's fair to say things have changed quite dramatically in the last year or two," Coyle says. "Those old days of writing big dollar checks in the front are in the past."

Ultimately, Pfizer hopes to have between seven and eight partners in its network, which will focus solely on developing biologics-based drugs. Three or four of the partners will be based in the U.S., one or two in Europe, and the remaining in Asia or Australia. Pfizer expects to announce the next two partners, leading academic institutions based in Boston and New York City, before the end of the year, Coyle says.

The creation of the academic network is a leap forward for Pfizer, which has in recent years been evolving its relationship with universities beyond the typical grants to individual researchers. In 2008, for example, Pfizer and UCSF's unit of QB3, the multi-campus California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, signed a broad-ranging three-year research pact worth up to $9.5 million.

This spring, the company shook up the industry-academic model again: It has given Washington University of St. Louis scientists access to data on Pfizer compounds that have gone through or are in clinical trials. The goal of the five-year, $22.5 million deal is to find new uses for the molecules. (C&EN November 8, 2010, page 14)



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