UCSF partners with Pfizer to improve drug discovery, development

By Kristen Bole

UCSF and Pfizer, Inc. have formed a new partnership to accelerate the translation of biomedical research into effective new medications and therapies for patients.

For UCSF, this expansive agreement represents up to $85 million in research support and milestone payments over the next five years if the partnership leads to the development of significant new therapies for diseases with high unmet medical need.

The collaboration 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.

Jeffrey A. Bluestone, PhD

Jeffrey A. Bluestone, PhD

S. Claiborne Johnston, MD, PhD

S. Claiborne Johnston, MD, PhD

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, called the Center for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI).

Unlike traditional public-private partnerships, the CTI will foster broad collaboration and exchange between UCSF and Pfizer scientists to help identify promising experimental molecules and quickly move them into proof-of-concept studies and clinical trials.  As such, it has drawn the attention and support of California public officials.

“This is a perfect example of the strength that San Francisco has to offer the nation as a center of biotechnology and medicine: world-class scientific talent along with the innovative solutions that are needed to tackle big problems,” said California Lieutenant Governor-elect and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “This partnership will bring innovative medicines to patients more effectively and efficiently, tackle vexing human diseases, and at the same time foster the economic growth that California needs.”

For UCSF, the alliance gives university researchers unprecedented access to Pfizer’s world-class research and development expertise, as well as to Pfizer scientists who can help match company resources with promising research programs.  It enables scientists in both organizations to establish robust collaborations on subjects of common interest while providing clear guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest.

“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 A. Bluestone, PhD, UCSF executive vice chancellor and provost, and the A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor in Metabolism and Endocrinology at UCSF. “This partnership takes advantage of the expertise in both camps to create new ways to develop drugs that achieve their most important goal: improving patient health.”

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 said.

This is the first time 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, noted Anthony Coyle, PhD, vice president of Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, in Cambridge, Mass.

“The Centers for Therapeutic Innovation is based on collaboration and transparency, and we are thrilled to have some of the best minds from UCSF on this joint effort to develop novel discoveries and targets,” Coyle said. “This is a tangible effort to bridge the gap in life sciences innovation by enabling greater interaction between industry and academia in a truly meaningful way.”

Coyle said a key aspect of the program is Pfizer’s commitment to co-locate onsite at UCSF, enabling UCSF and Pfizer scientists to work side-by-side. 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.

Significantly, it enables UCSF researchers to move their work out of the laboratory to benefit global health needs, according to S. Claiborne Johnston, MD, PhD, 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,” Johnston said. “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.”

The agreement, which creates a steering committee of leading UCSF and Pfizer scientists that will lead the partnership, was collaboratively developed by a team from Pfizer and two UCSF offices: the Industry Contracts Division of the Office of Sponsored Research and the Office of Technology Management.

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.