In a first-of-a-kind collaboration between academia and industry, Pfizer Inc. will give scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis unprecedented access to information regarding more than 500 pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical candidates in a partnership that focuses on discovering new uses for existing compounds.
Under the five-year, $22.5 million agreement announced Monday, May 17, Pfizer will provide access for Washington University scientists to view extensive research data on a large array of Pfizer pharmaceutical candidates that are or were in clinical testing.
Identifying new uses for existing compounds is known as indications discovery. The potential for its success continues to grow as scientists understand more fully disease mechanisms at the most basic molecular level and the influence of genetic variations on patients’ responses to medications.
“There are two realities in drug discovery,” says Don Frail, chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s Indications Discovery Unit. “The majority of candidates tested in development do not give the desired result, yet those drugs that do succeed typically have multiple uses. By harnessing the scientific expertise at this leading academic medical center, the collaboration seeks to discover entirely new uses for these compounds in areas of high patient need that might otherwise be left undiscovered.”
The partnership represents a new approach in academia-industry collaborations that has the potential to develop drug compounds more efficiently. By sharing Pfizer’s data on existing compounds, researchers will not have to replicate extensive preclinical studies, thereby shaving years off the time it takes to evaluate new uses for existing drugs.
The agreement builds on the long history of collaboration between the two organizations and brings together scientists from Pfizer and Washington University to jointly propose, design and carry out research on those compounds across a broad range of disease areas in which the university has internationally renowned scientific expertise, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes and related metabolic disorders, and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“We are pleased to see our longstanding relationship with Pfizer evolve into this innovative model of partnership that has the potential to benefit the many patients whose medical needs can’t be met with existing drugs,” says Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor and dean of Washington University School of Medicine. “We look forward to the many discoveries that will emerge from this collaboration.”
To encourage the exchange of ideas, Pfizer’s Indications Discovery Unit has developed an online portal through which certain WUSTL investigators will have unprecedented access to information about Pfizer’s proprietary compounds, including clinical and preclinical data. The compounds have been extensively studied and their mechanisms of action are well-understood. An advisory committee composed of scientists from both Washington University and Pfizer will evaluate proposals for new research that have been co-written by university and Pfizer researchers.
To facilitate the collaboration, Pfizer’s Indications Discovery Unit is moving its laboratories from Chesterfield, Mo., in suburban St. Louis, to the Center of Research Technology and Entrepreneurial Expertise (CORTEX), in the heart of St. Louis’ growing biotech corridor, adjacent to the School of Medicine.
The Washington University-Pfizer partnership has its roots in a research agreement the university signed in 1982 with a St. Louis-based predecessor to Pfizer. The new agreement differs from other relationships in which pharmaceutical companies, even in collaborations with academic scientists, have not disclosed propriety information about drug compounds.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for both partners,” says Jeffrey Gordon, MD, 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 both Washington University and Pfizer. By creating this innovative new framework, academic and pharmaceutical researchers can collaborate in ways that are mutually advantageous for the university, Pfizer and society to meet the needs of patients.”