Pfizer ramps up work with academics and biotech startups

Now more than a year into an R&D experiment to foster closer ties with academia, Pfizer ($PFE) has won over some top researchers with an open-arms approach to advancing science from labs to the clinic. As Bloomberg reports today, standout Harvard scientist Hal Dvorak traveled only a short distance to find collaborators at Pfizer, which has become entrenched in the biotech hub of Boston and in New York, San Francisco and San Diego.

Pfizer's Centers for Therapeutic Innovation has created a brand new way for the pharma giant to work with academia, with greater focus on drug research than previous arrangements with universities and hospitals such as sponsored research projects. Essentially, Pfizer awards funding to academics and external researchers to gain proof-of-mechanism data for a compound, at which point the drug company has an option to develop the asset.

For Pfizer, the center speaks to a broader effort led by CEO Ian Read (photo) to make drug development more efficient and more focused on novel drugs. And other drug giants such as Sanofi ($SNY), Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) have pushed forward similar initiatives and collaborations to boost partnerships with external biomedical experts at universities and research hospitals. Some drug chiefs would like to see as much as 50% of their R&D pipelines consist of programs involving partnerships.

"No matter how much money you have, nothing compares to the innovation going on out in the world," Jose Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, senior vice president of biotherapeutics R&D at Pfizer, told Bloomberg. "We want to be here, integrated into this fabric."

Gutierrez-Ramos told FierceBiotech last month that he would even like to expand the work of the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation through collaborations with biotech startups that focus on early clinical development of drugs from Pfizer's pipeline.

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