Pfizer shares software for biotech drug research with pharma rivals

Pfizer ($PFE) has led the way in an effort to share software and standards for managing data on complex molecules, providing the tech know-how on a precompetitive basis to competitors such as GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Roche ($RHHBY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY).

Pfizer developed the original technology for the set of applications, which the Pistoia Alliance has packaged under the HELM (Hierarchical Editing Language for Macromolecules) moniker for any qualified groups to implement in their labs. The software tools enable researchers to represent large molecules, which include protein-based drugs such as Amgen's ($AMGN) Enbrel and Roche's Herceptin. Researchers can use the software under an open-source license.

Open-source tactics have become more common in the pharma industry, where industry giants have been joining forces to overcome some thorny technical obstacles that have stymied progress in drug research. Such open-science initiatives often focus on work that avoids intellectual property on drug molecules and other competitive data.

Pfizer's HELM software handles representations and editing of complex molecules such as protein drugs, antibody-drug conjugates and other biologics that have become vital to treating diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and rare genetic disorders. These molecules are far larger and more complex than traditional small-molecule drugs like Pfizer's Lipitor, and informatics systems designed to manage data on the smaller compounds were unable to handle the workload from large-molecule data.

To be clear, Pfizer is only sharing the software for managing and sharing data on large molecules in the Pistoia Alliance, not the precious data on its therapeutic candidates. Pfizer has also been on the receiving end of such open-source efforts as a user of the tranSMART system, which Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) informatics gurus helped invent to streamline translational research.

"By sharing this work in a pre-competitive fashion through the Pistoia Alliance, we are not only helping others to solve this problem but also fostering a technical means by which companies, institutes, CROs, software vendors and IT service providers can exchange biomolecule data and information, which ultimately benefits everyone," Sergio Rotstein, who leads Pfizer's research business tech unit, stated.

"It has been truly inspiring to see how 24 different organizations can come together to deliver so successfully on a joint project. Particularly significant contributions have been made by ChemAxon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche," Rotstein added.

- here's the release