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Pharmaceuticals

Pfizer Augments Academic Network

Collaboration: San Diego hosts the drugmaker’s latest partnership

by Lisa M. Jarvis
August 15, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 33

Pfizer has added another node to a growing network of academic collaborators intended to speed its discovery of protein-based drugs. The newest member of Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI)—the University of California, San Diego, Health Sciences—will receive up to $50 million in a five-year collaboration.

The drugmaker launched CTI in November 2010 with UC San Francisco as its first partner. Pfizer has since announced CTIs in New York City and Boston. At each location, the company is setting up labs where its scientists can directly collaborate with university partners. Each lab will house a staff of antibody engineers, assay biologists, protein scientists, and project managers, Pfizer says.

Under the CTI model, academic scientists submit proposals to a steering committee composed of university and Pfizer representatives. For every project that receives funding through CTI, Pfizer will pay for two postdoctoral or clinical fellows.

For the UCSD project, Pfizer plans to hire about 15 scientists to work with university researchers in dedicated lab space at the company’s site in La Jolla, Calif. The firm is already recruiting 30 scientists to work at its planned research center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay. Overall, the California collaborations could receive up to $150 million in research support and milestone payments if molecules they discover complete Phase I studies.

Pfizer is one of several major drug firms attempting to leverage academic expertise to lower R&D costs and improve productivity.

Kenneth I. Kaiten, director of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, says Pfizer’s partnering strategy is “particularly good” because it calls for industry and academic scientists to work side by side. “That’s something that a lot of the other plans in major companies exploring partnerships are not really allowing for,” Kaiten observes. In the process, he says, Pfizer gains access to cutting-edge science, and academics can tap into the company’s development and commercialization expertise.

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