Just a fortnight after snapping up Encysive Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer has announced plans to acquire Serenex, a privately-held biotechnology company that specialises in oncology.

No financial details of the deal were disclosed but for the money it is paying out, Pfizer is acquiring the rights to SNX-5422, an oral heat shock protein 90 inhibitor which is currently in Phase I trials for the potential treatment of solid tumours and haematological malignancies. The New York-based behemoth is also acquiring Serenex’ proprietary drug discovery technology and “extensive small molecule Hsp90 inhibitor compound library”, which has potential uses in treating cancer, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, perhaps surprisingly, the deal does not include SNX-1012, Serenex’ lead compound, which is for treatment of oral mucositis in cancer patients. The latter is scheduled to complete Phase II trials in mid-2008 and researchers working on the drug will form part of a new company that is to be spun off and owned by the current shareholders of Serenex.

Commenting on the deal, chief executive Jeffrey Kindler said the Serenex purchase “is the latest step in the execution of Pfizer’s strategy to expand our commitment to oncology, an area where Pfizer plans to establish a leadership position”.

Rezulin court case can continue, says Supreme Court
Meantime, a split 4-4 vote in the US Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling against Pfizer (or specifically its Warner-Lambert division) which permits patients in Michigan to proceed in a lawsuit concerning the withdrawn diabetes drug Rezulin.

By a 4-to-4 vote, the court affirmed a federal appeals court ruling that reinstated the lawsuit against the world's biggest drugmaker by Michigan residents who said their injuries were caused by the diabetes drug Rezulin (troglitazone). The 4-4 split was due to the fact that the court's ninth member, Chief Justice John Roberts, took no part in the case because he owns Pfizer shares.

The Supreme Court decision basically deals with Michigan law which does not permit product-liability suits involving drugs that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. However it allows lawsuits to proceed if the plaintiffs can prove the makers of the drug deliberately withheld information that may have prevented the agency from giving the treatment the green light.

The ruling now means that a case brought by 27 plaintiffs who are resident in Michigan, including relatives of six Rezulin patients who died from liver damage, can continue to sue Pfizer which bought Warner-Lambert soon after Rezulin was withdrawn in 2002. Pfizer said it is “disappointed the Supreme Court did not provide further guidance but we continue to believe we will prevail in this litigation under Michigan law”.