QB3, Pfizer Expand Support for Translational Research

Renewal Spans Four UC Campuses, Builds on Success of 2009 Agreement

By Kristen Bole on March 16, 2012

The California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) has renewed and expanded a three-year agreement with Pfizer Inc. to collaborate on research projects at the University of California with the potential to transform world-class science into better medicine.

The renewal expands a 2009 QB3-Pfizer collaboration that led to 22 joint projects across the three QB3 campuses – UC Berkeley, UCSF and UC Santa Cruz – addressing a wide range of bioscience research. The expanded partnership will be open to UC Davis researchers, as well.

Regis Kelly, director of the California Institute for Quantitative BiosciencesRegis Kelly, director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences

The renewal also includes a program to fund innovative projects by postdoctoral scholars to pursue fundamental research questions that have a direct impact on Pfizer’s research and development efforts.

“UC scientists are working in some of the most innovative areas of science, which could have a real impact on patients and our environment,” said QB3 Director Regis Kelly, PhD. “By bringing these scientists together with researchers at Pfizer, we’re hoping to create equally innovative benefits for patients.”

Fruitful Collaboration

The 2009 QB3-Pfizer collaboration led to 22 joint research projects across the three QB3 campuses – UC Berkeley, UCSF and UC Santa Cruz – and resulted in wide-ranging bioscience research, including:

  • A joint project in the labs of computational biologist Matthew Jacobson, PhD, in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, and UC Santa Cruz synthetic chemist Scott Lokey, PhD, to predict whether small peptide therapeutics could be designed to cross through the cell membrane – a major obstacle in biotechnology;
  • Research by physicist Gary Ren, PhD, at UCSF and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, applying cutting-edge microscopy to understand how cholesterol is transferred between low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins. Ultimately, the project aims to help design better therapeutics for heart disease;
  • A study by Sharmila Majumdar, PhD, a UCSF professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, to evaluate osteoarthritis in the knee using a 3T MRI, to help understand cartilage deformation in early osteoarthritis.

The renewal also includes the opportunity for Pfizer to provide seed funding for startup bioscience companies currently in the QB3 Garage network and to sponsor research that could foster spin-off companies in the future.  Spin-offs are often the best way to move innovation out of a lab and to a patient, Kelly said, as well as a way to create jobs and foster economic development.

“This collaboration has been very productive for Pfizer, and a diversity of scientists from our numerous research centers have enjoyed the scientific interactions we have had with the QB3 network,” said Uwe Schoenbeck, chief scientific officer of Pfizer External R&D Innovation.  “This collaboration has been a model of success for us, and we look forward to an ever-closer relationship with this faculty in the coming years.”

Kelly said the success of this partnership is partially due to efforts to promote collegial interactions between Pfizer scientists and UC faculty, including a speaker series at QB3 that pairs industry scientists with faculty in their areas of expertise and provides a forum for discussing approaches to product development in hopes of spurring further collaborations.

The agreements are part of QB3 and the University of California’s efforts to establish a framework for successful university-industry partnerships while protecting research autonomy and integrity.  These master agreements ensure protections of academic freedoms and transparency, such as the right to publish research findings.

The success of this structure is exemplified in the broad range of collaborations that were formed under the original Pfizer/QB3 agreement, Kelly said, ranging from proof-of-concept research projects to technology translation and disruptive innovations.

While the first arrangement garnered the full $9.5 million in funding, actual funding consistently depends on Pfizer’s interest in specific projects.

QB3 is a cooperative effort among private industry and more than 220 scientists at UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. One of four technology institutes created in 2000 by former California Governor Gray Davis, QB3 has a joint mission of supporting science, driving the California economy and transforming scientific research into public good.

Fundamental to the latter two missions are QB3’s efforts to commercialize University of California science by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with industry and supporting innovative entrepreneurs. The effort has led to 45 bioscience startup companies currently in QB3’s Garage/Innovation Network. QB3 also operates Mission Bay Capital, an $11.5M seed-stage venture capital fund designed to support UC startups. Please visit www.qb3.org.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. For more information, visit www.ucsf.edu.