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USC and Pfizer agree on new partnership

by Amy Hamaker
“This new partnership with Pfizer will be a benefit to both our scientists and, ultimately, the patients they serve," said Thomas E. Jackiewicz, senior vice president and CEO of USC Health. (Photo/Nick Abadilla)
“This new partnership with Pfizer will be a benefit to both our scientists and, ultimately, the patients they serve," said Thomas E. Jackiewicz, senior vice president and CEO of USC Health. (Photo/Nick Abadilla)

A significant number of drugs originate in the academic medical community, but progress toward bringing new pharmaceutical breakthroughs to the clinic is often slow and prohibitively expensive.

Since the early 1980s, according to researchers, the number of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs has stayed the same, while investments in research have increased from $5 billion to $35 billion.

“There is a premium being placed on true innovation, and increasingly, major biomedical institutions and industry are finding they share common objectives,” said Anthony Coyle, vice president and chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI).

To help speed the drug development process, CTI is teaming up with USC to combine academic medical center research teams with Pfizer’s technological, legal, regulatory and commercial expertise.

“Pfizer has given us a unique opportunity to partner through CTI,” said Stephen Gruber, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We have been working together over the past year to put this project into motion, and we are excited to offer this opportunity for collaboration to our researchers.”

CTI, which has established partnerships with 23 academic medical centers across the United States, supports collaborative projects from four dedicated labs in Boston, New York City, San Francisco and San Diego. The laboratories are small, semi-autonomous units located near academic medical centers. Laboratory staff includes both Pfizer employees and medical center postdocs.

Selected USC researchers will have access to Pfizer’s proprietary drug discovery tools and technologies and support for investigational new drug- and clinical-enabling functions (toxicology, regulatory, etc.)

The research process begins with a preproposal and, if successful, a full proposal that is jointly prepared. Selected researchers enter into a two-year agreement based on agreed-upon deliverables. According to Coyle, current areas of CTI research interest include oncology (antibody drug conjugates, immunomodulator agents, etc.), rare diseases, immunology/inflammation, pain and renal disease.

A joint steering committee with equal representation from Pfizer and USC will govern the partnership and have overall accountability for program progress. Steering committee members will include Gruber and Coyle along with Thomas Buchanan, vice dean for research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute; Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, Gavin S. Herbert Professor and executive vice dean at the USC School of Pharmacy; Torben Straight-Nissen, managing director of CTI; and Richard Lindberg, California site head for CTI.

“Our researchers share a common goal to see their concepts translated into therapeutic treatments for patients,” said Thomas E. Jackiewicz, senior vice president and CEO of USC Health. “This new partnership with Pfizer will be a benefit to both our scientists and, ultimately, the patients they serve.”

Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School, added, “Pfizer’s goal for its CTI program is ultimately to bring medical science to the patient bedside in order to treat patients with unmet medical needs, and that fits perfectly with the Keck School’s mission to make scientific discoveries and translate them into improved health.”

Two-page, nonconfidential preproposals must be submitted to the Office of Foundation Relations at the Keck School of Medicine from July 22 to Aug. 30; all researchers, clinicians and postdocs may apply. For more information, contact Kavita Munjal, senior executive director for Foundation Relations at the Keck School, at (323) 442-2355 or munjal@usc.edu.