Joint Pfizer and UCSF drug development teams get a green light

Just a few weeks away from the first anniversary of their deal to collaborate on new drug development, Pfizer ($PFE) and the University of California San Francisco say that they have selected their first collaboration projects, set up neighboring lab space for Pfizer investigators and will now try to see how quickly they can vault these projects into the clinic.

Pfizer says it has made good on its plans to set up a Center for Therapeutic Innovation next to UCSF's Mission Bay campus, which will house scientists partnered with university researchers. And once the last of the second round of pitches are gathered on the November 4th deadline, the joint team will line up another three to 5 projects to work on.

"The proximity is key," says Stephanie Robertson, who oversees the collaboration for UCSF. "People can literally walk across the street. That was a big reason for Pfizer locating right here.''

One of the preclinical projects is focused on an enzyme that could play a key role in lung cancer. The team will set out to determine if targeting the enzyme in lung cancer cells can normalize cells, which has occurred in cells turned cancerous after being exposed to cigarette smoke.

Pfizer has a lot to prove here. One of the biggest losers in the multibillion-dollar R&D game over the past decade, the academic collaboration is part of an ambitious effort to see if cross-pollinating Pfizer investigators with scientists at top universities can speed new drug research. Like other large pharma companies such as Sanofi ($SNY), opening up R&D to outside influences is seen as a key avenue to finding success after years of unproductive in-house work. For UCSF, it's a chance to build royalty revenues and establish a position for itself as a global leader in drug development, a goal cherished by Genentech vet and now UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann.

- here's the press release