Like many enterprises with international reach, Pfizer Inc. makes its corporate home in New York. But the company has deep roots in southeastern Connecticut, having built what was then the world’s largest manufacturing plant for antibiotics in Groton in 1946.
Today, more than 6,000 Pfizer scientists and R&D personnel continue to do much of the company’s work in drug discovery and testing in laboratories in Groton and at its Global Research and Development headquarters in nearby New London.
With the April opening of the $35 million New Haven Clinical Research Unit (CRU), a 52-bed dedicated facility for Phase I drug trials, Pfizer further strengthened its ties to Connecticut and added new luster to a multifaceted Pfizer-Yale research alliance that began three years ago.
At the CRU, one of only four such Pfizer facilities in the world (the others are in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Brussels, Belgium; and Singapore), volunteers will take part in studies in which they will receive potential medicines that have cleared several years of safety studies in the laboratory. Although the CRU is wholly owned and operated by Pfizer, some studies there will be collaborations between Pfizer and bioimaging experts at the School of Medicine, who will use positron emission tomography (PET) and other technologies to track where and how drugs under study are acting in the body.
Diane K. Jorkasky, M.D., Pfizer’s vice president of clinical pharmacology, says that the ability to draw on the expertise of Yale scientists in a mutually beneficial partnership figured heavily in the company’s decision to locate the CRU in New Haven, citing “a world-class medical imaging center with a strategic interest in PET scanning and research on the central nervous system and a university that understood the value of academicindustrial relationships.”
But the planned collaborative studies at the New Haven CRU are just one example of Pfizer’s research and education partnerships with Yale.
In 2003, the company established a fellowship in memory of the late Patricia S. Goldman-Rakic, a renowned Yale neurobiologist, which provides tuition, health insurance and a stipend every year to a promising graduate student in neuroscience in Yale’s Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (see related story, A Long, Fruitful Collaboration: Bristol-Myers Squibb and Yale). Through Pfizer Faculty Development grants, five assistant and associate professors in the School of Medicine have been granted up to $50,000 worth of research time at the medical school’s Magnetic Resonance Research Center.
And in a new joint effort of Pfizer’s Women Leaders Network and the medical school’s Office for Women in Medicine, a visiting professorship has been created that allows a woman on the medical school faculty to spend 12 weeks working alongside Pfizer researchers in Groton and New London each year.
In the most ambitious Yale-Pfizer partnership to date, construction is under way on a PET research center, where high-resolution scanners will allow Yale scientists to pinpoint drug action in the human body, especially in the brain. In addition to an initial start-up investment of $5 million, Pfizer has pledged $20 million over 10 years for the new center, which is slated to open this fall.
“The relationship is one of win-win for Yale and Pfizer,” Jorkasky says, “and the biggest winners will be the patients who will benefit from the science that the partnership explores.”