Pfizer ramps up Cambridge collaborations
Pfizer’s new pharma R & D model is already bearing fruit for the Cambridge UK Life Sciences cluster – creating collaborations and inspiring fresh medical innovation.
Pfizer is forging cutting edge partnerships with relatively small UK biotech companies that are boosting the innovation pipeline and promise to accelerate the pace of new medicines discovery.Reaction to the initiative has thrilled Dr Ruth McKernan, senior vice-president, Pfizer and chief scientific officer, Neusentis – Pfizer’s specialised unit at the vanguard of research into pain and sensory disorders and regenerative medicine.Heavyweight influencers from the Life Sciences and VC communities emerged equally excited from a Pfizer-Neusentis networking event at Granta Park, Dr McKernan told Business Weekly. She said that the Cambridge “hotspot” was proving fertile territory for the new and highly focused R & D model that Pfizer is pioneering.Pfizer has even developed an open door policy so that biotech companies can come in and use its facilities.Dr McKernan said half a dozen potential collaborations had been identified in the last week alone in Cambridge and that small businesses in the sector were often major sources of innovation in their own right.She said: “There was quite a range of organisations represented at the event – VCs, small biotechs, MRC, the Sanger Institute, some academics – mostly biotechnology and pharma-related. I was really pleased.“I explained the areas we worked in to help people get under the skin of what we do – and to press home the message that we were always open to collaborations. It’s not always about money – finding fresh ideas and new ways of doing things are just as important to the industry.
“I told the biotech companies present that their collaborators can come into our labs and use our equipment and we are happy to take a look at the technology they are working on. Connectivity in Cambridge is great. We are already seeing new companies starting up and the community is as excited as we are about this. We still retain around 650 jobs in Kent and the operation is nice and solid with brilliantly executed science.Dr McKernan said Pfizer's Cambridge hub was not massive – around 150 people at the moment – but was producing real cutting edge science and exciting innovation. "There is real momentum building up in genomics now. We have undertaken a lot of research on why some people don’t feel pain and have made real progress with a sodium-channel blocker that resulted in compounds being advanced into first-in-man studies.“We are now making sensory neurons that help identify the signals of pain. We were able to make human cells that are being used in clinical trials of medical treatments. While 150 people may not sound a lot, it is not just the number of people we employ that is significant in the R & D model. You need to consider the partnerships we are creating, the results of these alliances, the spin-off companies that are resulting and the whole community of Life Sciences companies around us that we undertake collaborations with. Taken as a whole that represents a highly significant Life Sciences community."Dr McKernan said the Pharmaceutical industry had to change. "The move towards stratified medicines is the logical progression. Where you have real hotspots of academic research, like Cambridge, the quality of science and range of innovation that spins out of that research can be crucial to advancing new medicines. Our CEO, Ian Read was over here last week. He wanted to see for himself the value that could be created from our approach and he liked the model he saw; it’s where he wants Pfizer to be. Now I really want to build up two-way connections with companies around the Cambridge cluster. When you are dealing with companies that are doing something new and different it is bound to spark more good ideas.“We have obtained half a dozen good leads on potential new relationships this week alone. Some ideas you get to see can be a bit wild and wacky but there can even be a germ of opportunity in these. That’s the thing about Cambridge entrepreneurs and companies in the technology cluster locally – they have such diversity of thought.”