By Marie Daghlian
Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is entering into a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco to accelerate the translation of biomedical research into new drugs and therapies. The pharmaceutical giant will commit up to $85 million in research support and milestone payments over the next five years to support the development of significant new therapies for diseases with high unmet medical need.
“This new way of engaging leading external scientists is a key component of our R&D strategy,” says Mikael Dolsten, president of Pfizer Worldwide Research & Development.
Public-private partnerships are nothing new, but now Pfizer is taking it one step further—hoping to foster broad collaboration and exchange to help identify promising experimental molecules and quickly move them into proof-of-concept studies and clinical trials. This will be done through the Global Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, an entrepreneurial network of partnerships with leading academic medical centers that will marry the advantages of academic research institutions with the pharma’s drug development capabilities and research technologies.
“This new model complements the venture capitalist-funded biotech start up and has the potential to catalyze the transformation of global biomedical drug discovery by advancing scientific breakthroughs in translational medicine,” says Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, Pfizer’s senior vice president of Worldwide Biotherapeutics Research and Development.
The first collaboration in the network is with UCSF and is designed to substantially reduce the time required to translate promising biomedical research into new medications and therapies – a process now estimated to take more than 15 years and $1 billion per drug. The partnership, which could advance up to 10 projects at a time, breaks from traditional public-private partnerships by creating an open network of researchers.
Pfizer will establish local centers at each partner site so that it can work side by side with the academic medical center teams. Pfizer will also make available its proprietary antibody libraries and advanced research tools along with technical support across the development process. In addition to funding pre-clinical and clinical development programs, Pfizer is offering liberal intellectual property and ownership rights to support continued experimentation and exploration, as well as broad rights to publication – often a sticking point in traditional academic-industry relationships. In return, Pfizer will have the opportunity to potentially broaden its pipeline with novel and highly differentiated candidate drugs to treat diseases of high unmet medical need.
“This is an excellent example of how we can fundamentally improve the process of translating research into better drugs by bringing all of the people involved to the same table,” said Jeffrey Bluestone, UCSF executive vice chancellor and provost. It will enable scientists in both organizations to establish robust collaborations on subjects of common interest while providing clear guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest.
UCSF researchers interested in studying a certain drug target, for example, will have access to Pfizer’s human antibody technology platforms from the start, eliminating the obstacles that arise when translating research advances from animals to humans. That alone could cut two to three years off the process of developing new medications, while quickly weeding out efforts that aren’t effective, Bluestone says.
Each Center will be governed by a joint steering committee comprised of Pfizer and academic medical center representatives who will provide leadership and evaluate the success of each program through discovery and early stage clinical development.
Transparency is an important aspect of the partnership. Pfizer has opened its extensive libraries and antibody development technologies to outside researchers and underscores the company’s goal in bridging the gap in transitioning early science into clinical applications, says Anthony Coyle, vice president of Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, which is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Collaborations will initially focus on U.S.-based academic centers and medical institutions and is expected to expand into Europe and Asia in 2012.
UCSF researchers will be able to move their work out of the laboratory to benefit global health needs, according to S. Claiborne Johnston, a UCSF neurologist and director of the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “Ultimately, we’d like to see the work we do have an impact on people’s health,” says Johnston. “But as a university, we don’t have the facilities or expertise to produce drugs and bring them to market. Industry collaborations are a crucial part of that process and this represents an excellent model for those collaborations.”
Pfizer is placing a bet that the new model will work. “This new model complements the venture capitalist-funded biotech start up and has the potential to catalyze the transformation of global biomedical drug discovery by advancing scientific breakthroughs in translational medicine,” says Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, Pfizer’s senior vice president of Worldwide Biotherapeutics Research and Development.