Pfizer taps biotech startup to tailor R&D of lupus, autoimmune drugs

Pfizer ($PFE) has lassoed capabilities from the venture-backed biotech Nodality to understand the molecular underpinnings of autoimmune diseases as the drug giant doubles down on personalized drug development. The alliance, which initially focuses on lupus, gives Pfizer the option to tap the South San Francisco-based startup for companion diagnostics.

The deal builds on Nodality's previous relationship with Pfizer, which has been an investor in the startup since 2008 and co-led a $15 million venture round for the young company in July along with TPG Biotech, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Maverick Capital. As Xconomy reports, Nodality uses an approach licensed from Stanford University that involves the use of flow cytometers to track disease-related molecules to help doctors choose the proper treatments for patients.

Pfizer, like other drugmakers, has pushed to develop expensive specialty meds that home in on specific disease targets. Yet developing precision drugs requires technologies that allow researchers to match the treatments with the right patients based on biological factors such as genes and proteins from a person's tissue sample. Take Pfizer's lung cancer drug Xalkori, which uses a companion diagnostic from Abbott Labs ($ABT) to determine whether a patient expresses the targeted ALK gene.  

"Our partnership with Nodality exemplifies Pfizer's commitment to precision medicine by providing us with earlier insight into a compound's potential clinical profile, which can help reduce attrition rates, accelerate development and improve patient targeting," Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, Pfizer's head of biotherapeutics R&D, said in a statement. "There is a tremendous patient need for new medicines that can impact the pathophysiology of autoimmune diseases."

Nodality, which is focused on enabling personalized medicine, not developing drugs, didn't reveal the amounts of the announced initial fee, research funding and goal-based milestone payments in the Pfizer deal. Yet company CEO Michael Goldberg noted in the company's press release that the agreement gives his outfit a second major pharma pact this year, following the deal that his company landed with Belgian drugmaker UCB Pharma to develop companion diagnostics for drugs in immunology.

- here's the release
- check out Xconomy's article