Pfizer is streaming $46 million into four early-stage research companies ‘on the leading edge of scientific innovation’, under wider plans to expand its R&D investment strategy.

The first four investments under its new focus have been handed out to BioAlta, NextCure, Cortexyme and 4D Molecular Therapeutcs, the drug giant said, noting that it would help them to “fully explore their platforms in the hopes of advancing new therapeutic pathways”.

“There is exciting scientific discovery happening both within Pfizer and beyond our walls, and we look forward to continuing to explore opportunities to bring our resources to emerging companies investigating in areas where we feel we could make a difference for patients,” said Mikael Dolsten, president of Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development. 

Under its agreement with BioAtla, which uses protein engineering to develop Conditionally Active Biologics (CABs), a new class of drugs that can be activated in select microenvironments in the body, each company will have a license to the other's respective technology to pursue the development and commercialisation of several drug-conjugated conditionally-active antibodies. Pfizer also gains an exclusive option to develop and commercialize BioAtla CAB antibodies that target CTLA4, an immuno-oncology target in humans.

Of its other partners, the new biopharma NextCure, which Pfizer helped form, is focused on the discovery and development of novel immuno-oncology therapeutics products, Cortexyme is developing novel treatments that aim to alter the course of neurodegenerative diseases, and 4D Molecular Therapeutics is working on “potentially transformative” gene therapy products for serious unmet medical conditions.

Pfizer’s stressed that its strategy is to be flexible in how it partners with companies, using a range of investment vehicles and collaboration models “to help ensure we tap into the vast, rapidly-evolving ecosystem of healthcare innovation, looking to complement each other’s capabilities so that together we can make a bigger impact”, said Dolsten.

The ultimate goal is to accelerate the pace at which good scientific ideas can become promising therapies, the firm noted, adding that its new strategy will focus on “high-priority areas of research where it is best positioned to bring unique, high-impact therapies to patients not well-served by current treatments”.