Maybe there is something to Affinium Pharmaceuticals’ new name. Last week the Toronto-based company, formerly known as Integrative Proteomics, announced that it had struck a deal valued at $30 million with Pfizer to comprehensively study and develop leads for an unspecified number of the big pharma’s target proteins. And on Monday of last week, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation agreed to give Affinium and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto $5 million to identify potential drug targets for that disease.
The arrangement with Pfizer represents Affinium’s first publicly announced deal with a major pharmaceutical company, and the value of the deal — pegged by Affinium at $30 million not including potential royalty payments — serves to underscore the broad scope of the relationship. In addition to expressing the target proteins supplied by Pfizer, Affinium will study their interactions with other proteins, synthesize small molecule leads, and determine the structures of the target proteins, both independently and co-crystallized with small molecules.
Although many proteomics companies have complained about pharma’s conservative attitude toward partnerships, John Mendlein, Affinium’s CEO, told ProteoMonitor at last week’s IBC Proteomics conference that his company’s deal with Pfizer could be seen as an indication that “the glacial ice is beginning to melt.” Despite a “tough past two years,” he said, “[big pharma] will open up big time with collaborations.”
Affinium’s partnership with Pfizer will involve the study of proteins from multiple classes of enzymes over the course of the three-year deal. As part of the $30 million price tag, Pfizer will provide Affinium with payments to cover R&D costs, database licenses, discovery and clinical milestones, and any royalties from products.
For the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which also awarded Proteome Systems a similar grant in March to study proteins found in the lungs of patients with the disease, Affinium will study the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein and its interactions with other proteins as part of a two-year research program. A mutated form of the CFTR gene is responsible for expressing a form of the protein that the cell cannot excrete to the cell surface. Affinium will study the protein-protein interactions of the CFTR protein and other membrane proteins using both in vitro and in vivo affinity pull-down experiments, in combination with its Bruker Daltonics mass spectrometry platform.
Although the joint research with the Hospital for Sick Children into cystic fibrosis will draw on a $5 million grant from Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics, the drug discovery arm of the US-based Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Mendlein declined to say how much of the money Affinium will receive.
Taking on the two research initiatives, while at the same time pursuing its in-house drug discovery program, will not require Affinium to significantly expand its experimental capabilities, Mendlein added, but the company may hire more scientists and purchase additional instrumentation from Bruker. The company’s current platform consists of mass spectrometry, NMR, and x-ray crystallography instrumentation supplied by Bruker Daltonics and its two sister companies, Bruker BioSpin and Bruker AXS. In addition, the company has built an in-house medicinal chemistry group and licensed high-throughput screening capabilities from Aurora Biosciences, a subsidiary of Vertex Pharmaceuticals.