Industry-Sponsored Research Week
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Pfizer’s ITEN fosters early research ties with university partners


By David Schwartz
Published: May 8th, 2018

Pfizer Inc. has added a collaborative drug discovery model to its academic partnerships menu, aimed at the very earliest stages of research and focused more on relationship-building than on commercializing specific new compounds. Still, the Innovative Target Exploration Network — which is expected to double from three to possibly six members this year — can accommodate sponsored research agreements, which will involve moving some of the discoveries with potential into industry-academia partnerships, while others are passed on by the drug company for researchers to pursue as they wish.

The ITEN model, says Uwe Schoenbeck, PhD, the drugmaker’s chief scientific officer for external research and development innovation, and senior vice president for worldwide R&D, is “at the earliest end of the drug development spectrum.” Individual ITENs are being built around specific promising areas of drug discovery that Pfizer has prioritized for early-stage research.

The ITENs “are not associated with broad, generic commercialization terms. Instead ITENs will handle decision making and intellectual property-related decisions in a collaborative fashion, details of which are determined on a case-by-case basis,” Schoenbeck notes. Those decisions, he emphasizes, “also consider the need for PIs to publish key findings and pursue research developing from an ITEN that Pfizer does not envision to engage on directly.”

The goal of the ITEN program is to “build the optimal sourcing strategy by allowing researchers from Pfizer and partner academic institutions — targeted globally — to share ideas for pairing academia’s cutting-edge research with industry’s translational capabilities,” he adds. The ITENs are designed “to harness ideas that provide the best fit to our priorities to underpin future drug discovery in core areas of interest.”

Under the ITEN umbrella, Pfizer envisions “a scalable network of collaborative research, which could include sponsored research agreements, in-kind contributions or other types of investments,” Schoenbeck says. That means each ITEN budget “is not fixed, but rather flexible to allow us to respond to the science generated.” It also means there are no expectations of deliverables for the participants.

Stressing that the ITEN program seeks to create “an environment of creative and agile scientific interaction,” Schoenbeck adds that Pfizer is “focused on seeking unique technology platforms and outstanding biology expertise. As ITENs are designed to be a starting point in the drug discovery process, generating novel biology insights and target hypotheses to be tested and validated in one or more of our … core areas of interest, we do not envision [limiting] the scope of each ITEN by setting a numeric goal for the program.”

The program currently involves partnerships with the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the University of Texas Southwestern in the U.S., with additional partnerships under discussion.

The key concept is to “foster the PI-Pfizer relationship through an agreement with the institution which allows for unencumbered exchange of ideas and research,” Schoenbeck explains. Those relationships are “further enabled by a resident Pfizer scientific liaison” — called an External Scientific Innovation Lead — “between senior scientists from Pfizer and academic PIs from the institution, who facilitates discussions on research topics of mutual interest.”

A detailed article on Pfizer’s ITEN model appears in the April issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the entire archive of past articles filled with best practices and practical case studies for building industry-university research partnerships, CLICK HERE.

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