Big-spending Pfizer is forsaking the world of major acquisitions, for the moment at least, and has entered into four new alliances in a bid to find some pearls in the biotechnology basket.

First up is a deal with Archemix Corp which will see Pfizer work with the latter firm to discover first-in-class aptamers (strings of nucleic acid that bind tightly to a specific molecular target) that can be developed and commercialised as therapeutics.

Under the terms of the deal, for which financial details were not disclosed, Archemix will use its proprietary Selex technology to generate product candidates for three undisclosed disease targets identified by Pfizer which will then take over responsibility for selling the resulting products.

Next up is a “two-year, multi-million dollar agreement” with Mirus Bio Corp which will see the firms investigate and optimise gene silencing methods using the latter’s nucleic acid delivery platforms to target and suppress the expression of genes of interest to Pfizer. "The lack of effective delivery methods has been the Achilles' heel impeding progress in the emerging field of RNA interference (RNAi)," said Russell Smestad, Mirus Bio's president, who was understandably “excited” to sign a deal with the world’s biggest drugmaker. Pfizer also signed an RNAi deal with Sigma-Aldrich Corp last week

The third deal is with PTC Therapeutics, which sees Pfizer make an initial payment of $10 million as well as spend $10 million for an equity stake in order to get access to the New Jersey-based firm’s GEMS (Gene Expression Modulation by Small-Molecules) technology. The collaboration may include up to 10 targets and PTC could earn up to $121 million.

Finally, BaroFold of Boulder, Colorado, has granted a multi-site research licence to Pfizer for its PreEMT high-pressure technology for solubilising, disaggregating and refolding proteins.

The sums involved in these deals are not huge but analysts are giving the pacts a thumbs-up as it reflects Pfizer’s intention, stated firmly in November, that it was going to be looking at the innovative technologies that are out there. The company is also acutely aware of the need to bolster its pipeline following the severe blow it suffered when it halted development in December on its promising cholesterol treatment torcetrapib, for safety reasons.