Are Non-Profits Getting a Raw Deal From Big Pharma?

Published: Dec 11, 2012

No matter how big a pharmaceutical company’s R&D budget is, it can only cover a small portion of the excellent ideas that exist for the discovery and development of breakthrough medicines. Thus, these companies seek to broaden their access to innovation by creating networks of academic institutions, research institutes, and biotech companies in order to tap into other sources of intellectual property. This is a terrific way for a big pharma company to maximize the considerable investments being made in R&D, as was explained by Dr. Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s head of research in a guest post on Dolsten’s post was a response to my earlier one entitled: “Should the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Invest $58 Million in Pfizer Research?” in which I challenged the wisdom of the CFF paying Pfizer $58 million to do pre-clinical research looking for new exploratory drug candidates to treat cystic fibrosis. Essentially, I feel that if Pfizer believes that this research is truly important, the company should pay for it itself and allow the CFF to invest its precious funds in other research endeavors. The position that Pfizer has taken with the CFF differs from what it has done with academic institutions in its “Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI)” initiative. As Dolsten describes, “CTI is a groundbreaking program which brings Pfizer scientists with expertise in drug development to work alongside academic scientists with deep biological insights, with a goal of accelerating the translation of discoveries into treatment.” This is a very interesting concept and one would hope that it proves to be very successful. Pfizer has established CTIs at a variety of places including the University of California, San Francisco, the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard Medical School. But the deal structure that Pfizer has set up with these academic institutions that are fortunate enough to be a part of the CTI network is very different than what Pfizer has done with the CFF. As reported by Lisa Jarvis, Pfizer has devoted 80 scientists and will commit as much as $335 million to this initiative. Should anything emerge from these collaborations, the responsible institution will presumably benefit financially in the form of milestone payments and royalties.

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