Pfizer in the 'Hood
When Jeffrey Kindler became CEO of Pfizer in 2007, the company underwent a massive reorganization, including laying off almost
10,000 employees (10 per cent of its global workforce) in an attempt to save over $1 billion by the end of this year. The
company also announced its intention to move into biologics, with the goal of having that category account for 20 percent
of its pipeline by 2009.
"Within the last two years, one of our major strategic initiatives at Pfizer has been to expand the science beyond our four
walls," says Catherine Mackey. "We're really reaching out into the community and doing a lot more collaborations."
In San Diego, that has meant, among other initiatives, a five-year, $100 million research alliance with the Scripps Research
Institute, announced last year.
Reaching out also includes the creation of the Pfizer Incubator, housed on the La Jolla campus in a modern, 28,000-square-foot
facility that features chemistry and biology labs, as well as adjoining office space. Pfizer's plan is to invest $10 million
a year in supporting life science startups.
"The incubator is a way for us to nurture ideas to a point where we can evaluate whether they're really going to be relevant
to our pharmaceutical R&D," says Mackey. "If they are, then we'd want to bring that work in-house. If not, we could help
that company get on their feet and launch it. Either way, it's a win for everybody."
The incubator has space for five to eight companies. As of March, it had three occupants:
Fabrus, launched by Vaughn Smider MD, PhD, an assistant professor at the Scripps Research Institute, to develop novel antibody libraries
and ways to screen the libraries against biological targets.
Wintherix, founded by a team led by Dennis Carson, director of the Moores Cancer Center and professor of medicine at UCSD School of
Medicine, is searching for molecules that inhibit Wnt-related signaling pathways in cancer cells.
RGo Bioscience, co-founded by Dr. Alexander Chucholowski, former president of ChemBridge Research Laboratories, and Thomas Hermann, assistant
professor at UCSD, to develop new ways to deliver RNA into the body.
"There's a nice little buzz in there," notes Mackey.
One advantage of the cluster is that it allows Pfizer to be proactive rather than reactive in its dealings with biotech.
Says Mackey: "The reactive model would be: We sit in our office and let people do whatever they want. They come up with something
and send us an e-mail saying, 'Hey, are you interested?' And we answer, 'No, but if you'd done it differently, we would have
"This is a way for us to select areas where, if there was a breakthrough, we'd really be interested. Venture capitalists play
guessing games, trying to guess what we might be using. But we know what we're interested in. So we make good choices. What
we can't do is ensure success. Research is risky, but we know that if that research project is successful, it's going to be
For now, that success is still somewhere in the future. "It's been just a year," says Mackey. "The real story will be when
the first one comes through. I'm hopeful that we'll have something."