Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Pharma Pfizer's DTC Bulks Up, Offers Lessons for Genomics Folk


Pfizer’s much-vaunted Discovery Technology Center — which opened its doors in 1999 as an interdisciplinary research mecca designed to integrate informatics, engineering, chemistry, biology, and the promising new field of genomics — has grown in leaps and bounds since the pharma closed two acquisitions, with Warner-Lambert in 2000 and Pharmacia this April.

Early in the center’s life came a shift in leadership. Alan Proctor, who first conceived the idea for the novel research division and initially oversaw it, headed off for another position within Pfizer, and in May of 2001 Rod MacKenzie became VP of DTC.

The center is still in growth stages. “We’re into our fifth year of science now, [but] it’s still pretty young in drug discovery terms,” says MacKenzie, 43. Early work has focused on setting up the “fundamental disciplines” and in more recruitment rounds: the current one will bring the unit to about 90 discovery scientists, which is just half of the center’s capacity, he says.

The DTC’s early devotion to integrating genomics across every part of pharma research seems to have waned somewhat. MacKenzie says the center is “still very involved in genomics” but that “we certainly don’t see genomics as the single technology that’s going to be applicable across the board.” It fits in best so far with target discovery, he says. Also apparently out the window is the no-pressure-for-discovery research environment. A high-level industry watcher in Cambridge says Pfizer now insists that the DTC deliver a compound to trials within two years.

Still, MacKenzie believes that genomics and its related research fields could play a more important role in drug discovery. Much of the current technology is neither robust nor validated enough for pharmas to bring it in-house, he contends. “We need to see more partnerships between technology companies and the big pharma companies,” he says. A key application: molecular toxicology, where MacKenzie says proteomics in particular could be crucial for pharmaceutical firms. “It’s true across the whole industry that we don’t have the kind of predictive assays and tests we need to stop the kind of attrition that we get. It’s a huge burden that everybody in the industry is carrying,” he says. The solution: If proteomics companies can work with pharma to cull through attrition databases and help solve the “tox” element of ADME/tox, the entire industry could be invaluable to its dream customer.

— Meredith Salisbury


The Scan

Unique Germline Variants Found Among Black Prostate Cancer Patients

Through an exome sequencing study appearing in JCO Precision Oncology, researchers have found unique pathogenic or likely pathogenic variants within a cohort of Black prostate cancer patients.

Analysis of Endogenous Parvoviral Elements Found Within Animal Genomes

Researchers at PLOS Biology have examined the coevolution of endogenous parvoviral elements and animal genomes to gain insight into using the viruses as gene therapy vectors.

Saliva Testing Can Reveal Mosaic CNVs Important in Intellectual Disability

An Australian team has compared the yield of chromosomal microarray testing of both blood and saliva samples for syndromic intellectual disability in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Octopus Brain Complexity Linked to MicroRNA Expansions

Investigators saw microRNA gene expansions coinciding with complex brains when they analyzed certain cephalopod transcriptomes, as they report in Science Advances.