Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010 Alliance DOTY Nominee: Pfizer/UCSF

It's time for the IN VIVO Blog's Third Annual Deal of the Year! competition. This year we're 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 (four or five 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™.

O the wild charge they made! Pfizer's five-year, $85 million commitment to fund academic research at UCSF is the company's latest and largest push into the so-called Valley of Death that lies between the university laboratory and the commercial sector. We at the IN VIVO Blog hope this endeavor is more productive than Lord Cardigan's brave but ill-fated press forward in the Crimea, although we also admit that we may fall short of Tennyson's eloquence in chronicling the occasion. We'll do our best.

If not quite all the world has wonder'd how to turn academics' novel research into viable, life-saving medicines, it's a question that's captured the imagination of many in Big Pharma. In a trend that started in 2009 and gained traction in 2010, drug makers are increasingly looking to partner with academia in hopes of injecting Innovation (yes, with a capital "I") into their pipelines. Think Sanofi/Harvard, AstraZeneca/University College of London, or Genentech/UCSF. But those tie-ups pale in comparison with Pfizer's alliance with UCSF, a potential game-changer that surely merits your vote for Deal of the Year. Will you honor the charge Kindler's (er, Read's) team has made?

Like other Big Pharmas, Pfizer has inked deals with universities before, and even established a presence on UCSF's campus when it launched its Biotherapeutics & Bioinnovation Center in 2008. Still, the UCSF deal is a more expensive, closer-knit arrangement. For Pfizer, the agreement offers access to research at the point of creation, joint ownership of drug candidates (thought to be split 50-50 with UCSF), and options to develop compounds internally after Phase I trials are completed. The university will receive royalties or other payments as the drugs march bravely toward commercialization, while also receiving a view into Pfizer's library of antibodies, reagents and other compounds.

In conjunction with the deal, announced November 16, Pfizer appointed former AstraZeneca exec Anthony Coyle to lead its newly created Global Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, which will marshal troops into various academic centers around the world. Coyle promised more on-campus deals, including collaborations in Europe and Asia over the next couple of years.

Into the Valley of Death will ride about twenty Pfizer employees, who will set up shop in a private office on the UCSF campus. The school, in turn, will hire additional management to oversee the collaboration and bring in postdocs and other researchers as needed. A steering committee comprising four members each from Pfizer and UCSF will distribute funds and resources, to make reply and to reason why.

While it may focus primarily on large molecules, the collaboration isn't limited to any therapeutic area, nor is UCSF obligated to steer clear of additional agreements that could create competition among pharma partners for projects within its halls, like foreign armies trying to capture the port of Sevastopol. (Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them....) Researchers can still opt out of Pfizer's grasp, and if the company declines its option on a drug, UCSF is free to negotiate with others.

But Pfizer's influence will be high on campus, and if the partnership succeeds -- which it will if it produces a single marketable compound -- other pharmas will surely follow. Half a league, half a league, half a league onward!

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