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Pfizer Invests $6M in Canadian Research Groups to Develop PGx Drugs for Colorectal Cancer

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This story has been corrected from a previous version to indicate that Pfizer's investment in POP-CURE represents less than 0.1 percent of overall R&D expenditures.

By Turna Ray

Pfizer's investment in several Ontario, Canada-based research institutions will seek to discover and develop genetic biomarkers to personalize new and existing colorectal cancer treatments in the pharmaceutical giant's pipeline.

Earlier this month, Pfizer Global Research and Development invested $6 million in the POP-CURE program, which is being led by researchers at the Princess Margaret Hospital and the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research. Pfizer's investment in POP-CURE, which stands for PMH-OICR-Pfizer-CURE, represents less than 0.1 percent of the more than $7 billion the company spends annually on research and development.

Simultaneously, Ontario's Ministry of Research and Innovation is investing an additional $900,000 in the POP-CURE project through its Biopharmaceutical Investment Program. The research agreement between Pfizer, OICR, and PMH is for three years.

"The goal of the project is to develop new therapeutic targets and new diagnostics, as well as discover new diagnostic markers in colon cancer patients, on the basis of their individual cancer genotypes," Bradly Wouters, a senior investigator at OICR and leader of POP-CURE, told Pharmacogenomics Reporter last week.

Wouters' research team use genomic and molecular pathology approaches to develop a large clinical biobank, which in turn will be use to identify molecular signatures in colorectal cancer patients. Pfizer will use these molecular signatures to develop products for early detection, monitoring, and treatment of colorectal cancer.

According to Wouters, the project will also include "work on agents that are closer to testing, and some that are even in testing." Wouters did not specify for which drugs in Pfizer's pipeline the researchers will try to find genomic signatures. Pfizer spokesperson Julie-Catherine Racine also did not disclose the drugs being studied under the POP-CURE project.

"Any opportunities for validation of any research discoveries with targeted compounds will be determined within the multi-year partnership according to most appropriate compound within our selection," Racine told Pharmacogenomics Reporter this week.

"The agreement doesn't include any specific efforts to do clinical trials," Wouters added. "That will be done outside of the project, but in close collaboration with it."

The POP-CURE project in colorectal cancer is in line with Pfizer R&D priority areas. In April, the company announced that 12 out of 21 R&D programs that had advanced in clinical trials since September 2008 were in its so-called high-priority disease areas of diabetes, oncology, inflammation/immunology, Alzheimer’s, psychoses, and pain.

A leading product in the oncology portfolio is Sutent, which is currently marketed as a treatment for kidney and stomach cancers. The vascular endothelial growth factor/angiogenesis inhibitor is in clinical trials for the treatment of gastric, liver, prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal cancer.

In partnership with Genomic Health, Pfizer intends to bring to market a companion diagnostic for Sutent in treating Stage I-III, localized, clear cell-type renal carcinoma [see PGx Reporter 01-09-2008].

Pfizer's oncology products in clinical trials target various pathways, including c-MET, ALK-1, p-Cadherin, CDK, angiopoietin, and others.

The Sutent program comes three years after Pfizer partnered with Monogram Biosciences to develop and commercialize a companion diagnostic for the HIV drug Selzentry. The drug/diagnostics combination treatment is often held up as among the first personalized medicine products [see PGx Reporter 05-10-2006].

At the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting this year, Pfizer unveiled early clinical trial data on PF-02341066, a dual inhibitor of mesenchymal epithelial transition growth factor (c-met) and anaplastic lymphoma kinase translocation genes. The investigational drug developed by Pfizer to selectively attack certain genetic features of non-small cell lung cancer cells [see PGx Reporter 05-31-2009].

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