Pfizer goes regenerative

Company plans to pump as much as $100 million into new stem cell research unit

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NEW YORK—The promise of a new year and a new administration in Washington may usher in a period of optimism in the field of stem cell research, and Pfizer Inc. is positioning itself to be on the leading edge of a potential tidal wave of scientific development, as evidenced by the recent formation of Pfizer Regenerative Medicine, a biotechnology research unit focused on developing stem cell-based treatments for a wide range of conditions.

According to Pfizer spokeswoman Kristen Neese, the company will inject about $100 million into the project over the next three to five years, but she notes "that number could flux based on the collaborations that we sign onto."

Dr. Corey Goodman, president of Pfizer's Biotherapeutics and Bioinnovation Center, says the unit has hit the ground running.

The unit is located in two of the global hubs for biotech research— Cambridge, England, and Cambridge, Mass. A key component of the unit is the double-pronged approach with hubs on both sides of the Atlantic, a move Goodman says will allow the company to leverage academic, scientific and research communities in both areas.

Already, about 20 researchers have begun working at each site. Eventually, the U.K. site, at Granta Park, will focus on neural disorders and have a total of about 40 scientists. About 30 will work at the Massachusetts site, focusing on endocrine and cardiac research.

"This will allow us to interact with academic and biotechnology leadership in the Boston area, such as MIT and Harvard, as well as in the Cambridge and London areas in England," says Goodman. "The ultimate goal will be to deliver new medicinal products that can pave the way for the use of cells as therapeutics."

The unit will be led by Pfizer CSO Dr. Ruth McKernan. Pfizer's Executive Director of Global Research and Development, John McNeish, will manage the U.S. site. The goals of the unit are to continue the biotechnology revolution that has included the cloning of genes, monoclonal antibodies and other technologies that let scientist explore proteins and DNA.

"We are making major pushes in terms of antibodies, proteins and peptides," says Goodman. "We are also looking at new frontiers to try to determine what the therapeutic landscape is going to look like over the next 10 to 15 years."

The unit also marks a shift for Pfizer in its stem cell policy, which was revamped about a year ago.

"One of the first things we did after I came on board was to get the executive team to change the stem cell policy," says Goodman. "It was done with a lot of thought."

Goodman points out that Pfizer is adamant about maintaining strong ethical policies.

"We believe not only in the potential of embryonic stem cells, we are particularly encouraged by the new IPFs and by the ability to take adult epidermal cells with the potential to turn them into almost any cell type in the body," says Goodman. "We are encouraged for what this means for the policy of new medicines and new therapeutics for patients with major medical needs."

Pfizer's previous stand on stem cell research was closely aligned with the policy of the Bush administration.

An elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, Goodman was part of a panel about a decade ago that was charged with developing the initial stem cell report and guidelines for the academy, which was forwarded to the federal government.

"What my panel and committee recommended to the federal government in 2001 is not what the Bush administration has done for the last 8 years," he says. "No surprise there."

According to Goodman, the new stem cell policy at Pfizer is "very much in line with the National Academy of Sciences policy in the U.S. and policies in England, Europe and other parts of the world."

Officials at Pfizer also are buoyed by the prospects of fewer restrictions on stem cell research under the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

"Of course we are pleased that the administration has at least been saying publicly and in interviews that they plan to change the federal stem cell policy later in January," says Goodman. "We welcome that and encourage that." DDN

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