It's time for the IN VIVO Blog's Fourth Annual Deal of the Year! competition. This year we're once again presenting awards in three categories to highlight the most interesting and creative deal making solutions of the year. The categories are: M&A Deal of the Year, Alliance Deal of the Year, and Exit/Financing Deal of the Year. We'll supply the nominations (a half dozen in each category throughout December) and you, the voting public, will decide the winners (by voting early and often, commencing once we've announced all the nominees). Strap yourselves in, it's The Race for the Roger™.
We can always count on Pfizer to make the biggest splash. While it might be glad to have shed its traditional image as the big clumsy beast with the largest swarms of reps and the hugest mouth to swallow up its biotech prey, Pfizer would nevertheless be proud to have its Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI) network held up as one of the most prominent and ambitious examples of pharma's growing love-affair with academics.
This DOTY candidacy, then, is about the spirit of the times. Pharma's attraction to academia as the answers to their R&D problems remained, we argue, among the most important alliance trends for 2011, with ever-more deal flavors and sizes coming forward.
CTIs deserve a vote for being one of the most interesting (though let's vote in a couple of years on whether they were most productive): they're city-based networks of medical institutions that will, in theory, throw up the projects that the pharma giant needs to fuel is biopharmaceutical pipeline. In a "pioneering, open-innovation partnering model", Pfizer commits anywhere between $85m-$100m per city, sets up a physical space in those locations to pull together its chosen academic collaborators with Pfizer scientists, and invites proposals from those entrepreneurial (and reward-seeking) academics that reckon they have the kind of novel, fast-to-clinic large molecule programs that Pfizer's looking for.
The first CTI spawned in San Francisco in late 2010, since then they've popped up in New York (assembling seven medical centers with up to $100m funding) and Boston, and there are satellites in San Diego and Philadelphia. The initial plan envisioned 8 cities, including in Europe; that may be an under-estimate, though, said Tony Coyle, VP of the CTI programs, back in June 2011. The full scope depends on whether the program works, and yields clinical candidates.
And there's the crunch. Will enough scientists propose sufficient high-quality programs that meet Pfizer's tight selection criteria, or will the generous funding available simply sift out the greediest (leaving the truly talented to aim for dwindling NIH money)? Will Pfizer (and other big Pharma) hold to its promise to be fair and equitable with its academic partners (which, let's face it, wasn't the case in yesteryear's fruitless tie-ups)?
According to JC Gutierrez-Ramos, one the project's main drivers who also runs biotherapeutics R&D at Pfizer, the three CTIs have generated 14 funded programs to date (out of 280 submissions), and he expects 22 funded programs by the end of the first quarter of 2012. Selection took somewhat longer than expected in some cases, according to one academic partner, and not all institutions have contributed suitable projects as yet. But JC claims 75 Pfizer employees are now involved (of which 50 are new recruits).
So things are moving. And although they'll take time to bed down, Pfizer's aiming big: to have 40-70 CTI programs across the globe in a couple of years' time, the first clinically-validated candidates entering Phase III within 4-5 years (at a "fraction" of the cost of doing this internally) and for the overall project to hold up as a viable, productive alternative model to the VC-backed biotech start-up route.
Vote for the ambition, if not the concept.