Pfizer turns to GPCR experts at Heptares for a lineup of new drugs

Pfizer's Rod MacKenzie

Pfizer ($PFE) has signed on as Heptares' latest Big Pharma collaborator on G protein-coupled receptors.

In the deal announced this morning, Pfizer has turned to Heptares to point the way on up to 10 different GPCRs, targeting a "superfamily" of cell signaling proteins that plays a major role in modern medicine. Pfizer is handing over the list of discovery targets, along with an undisclosed upfront and up to $189 million in milestones per target.

In addition, Heptares' parent company, Sosei, is getting Pfizer to buy in as a minority shareholder, handing over 3% of the Japanese company's stock in exchange for $33 million, a 25% premium.

A 2009 Fierce 15 company, U.K.-based Heptares has been building a structure-based drug design platform dubbed StaR, which has been attracting a flurry of collaborators ranging from Teva ($TEVA) to AstraZeneca ($AZN) and MorphoSys. About a year ago AstraZeneca relied on their partnership on GPCRs to find molecules that could block PAR2, a GPCR which is activated by cleavage with a protease enzyme. It's a target for pain and inflammation. GPCRs overall represent a big target in drug development, accounting for dozens of top-selling drugs. Heptares has been using its tech to come up with improved and stabilized drugs for some of these targets.

"Pfizer looks forward to this collaboration with Heptares to help us more quickly screen and identify lead GPCR programs across multiple therapeutic areas within our preclinical portfolio and, ultimately, help us increase the speed at which we bring potential new therapies to patients," said Rod MacKenzie, senior vice president, PharmaTherapeutics Research & Development at Pfizer.

Pfizer has long had a lackluster R&D record, despite a slate of buyouts that included the huge Wyeth purchase. A few years ago the pharma giant opted to chop billions of dollars out of its research budget, but more recently the company has been striking new R&D deals, like its $850 million upfront pact with Merck KGaA on immuno-oncology. Now it's also well down the path to acquiring Allergan ($AGN), which will make it the biggest pharma company on the planet.

Heptares, acquired by Sosei in a $400 million deal, has pursued an aggressive partnering strategy.

- here's the release

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2009 Fierce 15 - Heptares Therapeutics