By Shera Dalin
As Pfizer Inc. pours $250
million into expanding its research and development facility
at the Chesterfield campus, the drug maker is also broadening
St. Louis’ influence within the multibillion-dollar firm and
among its scientists worldwide.
Following on the heels of its $200 million new research building
(NRB), which is set to be completed toward the end of 2008,
Pfizer is also investing an additional $50 million to expand
the capabilities of its Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) biotherapeutics
pilot plant. This high-tech facility is used to produce quantities
of protein-based medicines for early-stage clinical trials.
The NRB will enable the $48 billion New York-based pharmaceutical
giant to consolidate all of the work of its research scientists
onto its Chesterfield campus, rather than the four locations
it has been using, says Dr. Daniel P. Getman, St. Louis site
director and vice president of global research. Of our 1,200
St. Louis employees, 1,000 are scientists who will consolidate
to the Chesterfield campus.
“Although we have a lot of technology to facilitate interactions,
any time you bring researchers together in close proximity,
there are more and better opportunities to innovate, and innovation
is at the core of what we do” he says.
The consolidation of researchers and expansion of research and
development facilities comes despite Pfizer’s cost-cutting moves
elsewhere in the company and reflects their ongoing commitment
to R&D and an increased emphasis on protein-based medicines,
“What has really happened now is we have become the center for
expertise, in particular, for biologics and inflammation,” he
The research at Pfizer’s St. Louis labs is focused on three
key areas. The first is inflammation, which includes research
for disease modifying drugs for conditions such as Rheumatoid
Arthritis and Osteoarthritis. In addition a group of researchers
are also looking at the role of inflammation in many other therapeutic
areas (i.e., cardiovascular disease, asthma and respiratory
diseases). Second, scientists in the Indications Discovery Unit
are looking for new applications for existing clinical candidates.
Finally, researchers in the Biotherapeutics Discovery team and
Pharmaceutical Sciences Biologics teams are working with protein-based
compounds, again spanning multiple therapeutic areas.
“We continue as a major research presence in the St. Louis area,”
Getman says. “We’re one of the largest science-based companies
in the region. Together these companies bring a lot of excellent
scientists to the community, and reflect a strong research presence
in the Life Science area.”
The growing importance of the St. Louis R&D means that the operation
assumes greater emphasis among the company’s five drug candidate
producing research locations. Pfizer spends about $7 billion
a year on R&D.
“The important thing is that we have really consolidated and
solidified our role in the company. We are interfacing really
well with the rest of the company,” Getman says. “I feel really
good about the expertise we have here and how we are collaborating
broadly across R&D to leverage that expertise.”
The company’s goal is to increase its biologics drugs from less
than 10 percent of its pipeline to approximately 20 percent
of the portfolio. Pfizer is pursuing biologics, which typically
come in an injectable or inhalable form, rather than small-molecule
drugs, most often taken in pill form, because they offer new
approaches to important disease areas, Getman says. For example,
the company has a new biotherapeutic drug in stage three clinical
testing that would treat skin cancer. He hopes that drug will
be ready to file for final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) within the next year. St. Louis scientists
have been heavily involved in that drug and have worked collaboratively
with Pfizer researchers in Groton, Conn., where it was discovered,
and in La Jolla, Calif. where Oncology is now consolidated.
“We want to be positioned to take advantage of emerging technologies.
The reason we are growing our presence in biotherapeutics is
they offer options that traditional therapeutics don’t. The
technology has become much more refined.” Getman says. “Our
goal is to treat disease. We want as many tools to do that as
possible. Biologics represent another tool.”
St. Louis researchers contributed to the discovery and development
of Celebrex, as well as two biologics drugs, Genotropin and
Somavert for growth disorders. The company has 13 other biologics
drug candidates in development, including a lung-cancer treatment
at stage-three patient tests.
These innovations come at an important time for the drug maker.
It lost patent protection on Norvasc and long-time money-maker
Zoloft, suffered a drop in demand for top-selling cholesterol
drug Lipitor, and had another cholesterol drug fail in clinical
The combined nearly half-billion dollar Chesterfield expansion
will enable researchers to make greater quantities of a biologic
that is going through pre-clinical and early-stage clinical
trials, as well as work on more projects at the same time. The
expansion comprises additional bioreactors, fermenters and other
equipment used to isolate, express and purify biopharmaceutical
products for early human clinical trials, which have the potential
of becoming FDA approved medicines.
The expansion of the biologics facility, which will add to Pfizer’s
1,200 St. Louis employee presence, were enabled, in part, by
state tax incentives.