Washington University and Pfizer extend research collaboration agreement

Washington University in St. Louis and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. will collaborate more closely under a new biomedical research agreement that has the potential to move discoveries from the laboratory bench to patients’ bedsides more quickly.

The $25 million, five-year agreement represents a new model of partnership between academia and industry by bringing together University and Pfizer scientists to jointly propose, design and carry out research projects as well as to develop talented biomedical researchers through a fellowship program.

The collaboration will focus on the broad arena of immuno-inflammatory disorders, a particular area of interest for Pfizer and one in which Washington University School of Medicine has internationally renowned scientific expertise. Immuno-inflammatory disorders include arthritis and related diseases of bone and cartilage, atherosclerosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition, immuno-inflammatory processes can underlie pain, diabetes, obesity, cancer, central nervous system and gastrointestinal disorders, and eye problems.

“This innovative model of partnership intimately links the scientific talent of Washington University with the extraordinary expertise of a pharmaceutical company like Pfizer,” says Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton. “We believe it will serve as a new paradigm for other academic-industry collaborations, and we look forward to the vibrant discoveries and medical advances that the agreement encourages.”

Pfizer, with corporate headquarters in New York City, has many research laboratories, including those in suburban St. Louis. “I’m delighted that we continue to innovate and find more effective models to interact with universities and research partners,” says Karen Seibert, Ph.D., head of inflammation research for Pfizer. “This agreement will strengthen an already strong partnership between Pfizer scientists and the talented research community at Washington University – a partnership committed to advancing science to meet the needs of patients.”

The new agreement differs from previous paradigms in which pharmaceutical companies have provided funding to academic institutions for research projects primarily conceived and conducted by university researchers. The new model stresses equality in intellectual input, commitment and execution by both parties, as well as a mechanism to develop future research talent in immuno-inflammatory diseases, which is so central to many disease processes.

Under the new agreement, research on immuno-inflammatory disorders will occur in laboratories at Washington University and at Pfizer. While the company’s Chesterfield, Mo., location is likely to be one site of the work, individual projects will leverage the skills and experience of Pfizer’s research scientists worldwide.

“This is a great opportunity for both partners,” says Jeffrey Gordon, M.D., director of the University’s Center for Genome Sciences, who worked closely with Pfizer on the new agreement. “It leverages the complementary strengths and interests of the two institutions, boosts basic and clinical research in the St. Louis region, and represents an innovative new framework under which academic and industry researchers can collaborate in a way that is mutually advantageous to the University and the company, and beneficial to society.”

By partnering more closely from a project’s conception to its completion, both Washington University and Pfizer are hoping to more efficiently capture research innovations that can be readily applied to clinical care. Such success is dependent not only on the quality of the science but on the collaborative relationship between academic researchers and those in industry, Gordon says.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.