While Pfizer Inc. was an early leader in high throughput screening and combinatorial chemistry technologies for drug discovery, the company felt itself losing the cutting edge as it became organized around areas of specific therapeutic interest and focused on applying its expertise to downstream product development.

To keep pace in the early-stage discovery arena, PFE is now using its internal therapeutic focus to direct the integration of a network of external technologies from biotech companies, with the goal of fashioning an industrial discovery engine to improve the efficiency of its research programs and to reduce the attrition rate of compounds that enter the clinic.

With the recent completion of its merger with Warner-Lambert Co. (Morris Plains, N.J.), PFE expects to integrate an even wider range of technologies and drug discovery expertise. Indeed, Warner-Lambert brings 16 technology collaborations to PFE's portfolio, which already had 18 alliances focused on technology transfer (see "Pfizer's Partnerships", A2 and "Warner-Lambert's Partnerships", A3). The merged company will have a $4.7 billion R&D budget in 2000, with annual revenues of $28 billion, including $21 billion in prescription drug sales.

"Warner-Lambert has always struck me as a company that is quite current in technologies, especially in screening and chemistries," said Barrie Hesp, vice president of technology investments at PFE's Central Research division. "The advantage of scale here will be such that we can build an even better discovery platform than we have now."

According to Hesp, PFE has by nature been open to collaborations that bring in early-stage compounds. "But recently, we have recognized that we could build a technology base by taking external technologies and integrating them," he said. "We were early into high throughput screening and combinatorial chemistry, but we realized those internal capabilities may have lost an edge through our focus on delivery of products rather than technology development. We believe what we're best at is applying and integrating technologies."

Alliance hub

As an integrator of technology platforms, PFE has become a central hub, connecting products derived from other companies that have focused on solving one piece of the drug discovery puzzle. PFE believes that it can succeed by putting together the entire puzzle, even with pieces that were not necessarily designed to fit together.