Pfizer has entered into an alliance with FivePrime Therapeutics, the latest stage of its strategy to become a major player in biologics.

The two firms have signed a collaborative research and licence agreement which will focus on certain areas of cancer and diabetes. Under the collaboration, FivePrime will screen its comprehensive protein library in both cell-based assays and primary in vivo screens directed toward finding potential therapeutic protein products and antibody targets.

The privately-held San Francisco-based company will receive an upfront payment and an equity investment from Pfizer, plus “three years of committed research funding”. The latter will have exclusive worldwide rights to develop and sell certain products and targets discovered during the research term, in exchange for milestones and royalties. Specific financial details were not disclosed.

The deal will “fill a core need for Pfizer’s new biologics enterprise, the Biotherapeutics and Bioinnovation Center”, said Corey Goodman, president of the latter unit. Pfizer has a “corporate ambition of becoming a global leader in biotherapeutics” and the investment and partnership with FivePrime represents a key milestone in our efforts” to achieve that, he added.

FivePrime already has discovery collaborations in place with Boehringer Ingelheim (rheumatoid arthritis) and Centocor (pulmonary fibrosis and osteoarthritis), but linking up with Pfizer “provides the financial runway to take several of our oncology products into clinical trials”, said chief executive Gail Maderis. Its most advanced oncology biotherapeutic, FP-1039, is slated to enter the clinic later this year.