Pfizer joins Big Pharma peers in R&D matchmaking program

Cambridge, UK
Pfizer is interested in working on projects in oncology, rare diseases and other areas

Pfizer has become the latest Big Pharma company to join a consortium that matches drugmakers to researchers in Cambridge, U.K. The consortium pairs Pfizer, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and its other members to academic researchers to facilitate the transfer of assets and funds between the two groups.

Joining the consortium connects Pfizer to researchers at the University of Cambridge, Babraham Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Pfizer and the other industry participants in the initiative, called the Milner Therapeutics Consortium, provide cash to support collaborations and can give researchers access to their novel drugs for testing. The consortium is designed to make it quicker and easier to transfer materials and information than would otherwise be possible.

Pfizer has committed fully to the idea. While other industry participants have cherry picked certain areas of interest in which to collaborate, Pfizer has selected every field on offer. Pfizer’s areas of interest include oncology, rare diseases, neuroscience and autoimmunity. The selection is indicative of the breadth of Pfizer’s R&D activities—and its interest in powering its programs with U.K. academic expertise.

“The U.K. has a very strong academic and biotech community, and we anticipate working with many world-class scientists that will be supported and inspired by the work of the Milner Institute in the coming years,” Ron Newbold, VP, external R&D innovation at Pfizer, said in a statement.

Newbold has joined representatives of Astex, AstraZeneca, GSK, Shionogi, University of Cambridge, Babraham Institute and Sanger Institute on the Milner Innovation Board. Together, the board members assess the future needs of drug development and propose projects the companies can finance collectively to address forecast bottlenecks and opportunities.

The board is made up of people well positioned to make such predictions. Each drugmaker has put a research-related VP, SVP or director on the board. And the academic side includes Tony Kouzarides, a University of Cambridge professor who cofounded Abcam, Chroma Therapeutics and Storm Therapeutics. Last year, Storm raised £12 million ($15 million) from backers including Pfizer Venture Investments.

Kouzarides works at the Gurdon Institute, the temporary home of the consortium. The consortium is due to move into new digs early next year when construction of the Milner Therapeutics Institute is complete.