Pfizer Inc. is expanding its biotechnology-based drug discoveryefforts by allocating more than $115 million to fund fourcollaborations with small companies involved in genomics research.

Two companies, Myco Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Immusol Inc., areheadquartered in the U.S. and the other two, AEA Technology andOxford Asymmetry, are based in the U.K.

The alliances, collectively dubbed Pfizergen, will be coordinated bythe New York pharmaceutical company's Pfizer Central Researchunit in Groton, Conn.

Peter Ringrose, Pfizer's senior vice president for worldwide drugdiscovery, said the four new collaborations will build on thecompany's agreement with Palo Alto, Calif.-based IncytePharmaceuticals Inc., which provides Pfizer with access to Incyte'sdata base of gene discovery information. The $25 million agreementwith Incyte last June was Pfizer's first with a genomics company.(See BioWorld Today, June 24, 1994, p. 1.)

The research agreements with the four additional companies,Ringrose said, represent the next step in developing drugs based ongenomics. The collaborations, he added, are designed to give Pfizer"an integrated network of technologies" to take advantage ofadvances in genome sciences.

Pfizer said additional biotechnology collaborations are planned overthe next five years.

Immusol, of La Jolla, Calif., focuses on gene therapy. Myco, ofCambridge, Mass., uses genetic engineering of fungi and bacteria todevelop drugs. AEA, a Britishgovernment-owned company, has technology for analyzing thefunctions of genes. Oxford Assymetry, of Abingdon, England, isinvolved in combinatorial chemistry, generating large collections ofcompounds and assessing their biological activity.

Pfizer, which spent more than $1.1 billion on research anddevelopment in 1994, said the biotechnology collaborations "double"the company's annual investment in "external research" activities.

Agreements with Immusol and Myco involve equity investments,research funding and drug development milestone payments.Officials from AEA and Oxford Assymetry could not be reached forcomment.

Myco's president and CEO, Barry Berkowitz, said the collaboration,the first for the three-year-old start-up company, will focus on fungaldiseases and could be worth more than $50 million.

Pfizer has agreed to make an equity investment in Myco andcontribute research funds over the next four years totaling $20million. The equity investment will give Pfizer a 20 percentownership interest in Myco. The agreement also includes more than$30 million in milestone payments based on development of multipledrugs.

Financial details for the other three companies were not disclosed.

Immusol's chairman and CEO, Tsvi Goldenberg, said the agreementalso is the first major alliance for his company. The five-yearcollaboration will focus on ribozyme gene therapy to treat HIV andAIDS.

"It establishes us as a major player in gene therapy," Goldenbergsaid.

Immusol uses ribozymes to destroy selected RNA. In targeting HIV,the ribozymes attack RNA involved in viral replication.

Myco's technology involves analyzing the genetic structure of fungito find antifungal drug targets. The company's fungi collection isexpected to reach 40,000 organisms this year. Berkowitz said Mycoalready has identified 12 new molecular targets that producefungicidal activity, such as inhibiting fungal cell division.

The Myco collaboration, Pfizer said, will strengthen its presence inthe antifungal market. Pfizer's main antifungal product is Diflucan,which is used to treat candidal infections and cryptococcalmeningitis. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.