Number one pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, has said it will buy Idun Pharmaceuticals, a company developing treatments for diseases such as hepatitis and cancer, in the second quarter of this year. The terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed.

Idun has developed a broad intellectual property position in inhibitors of caspase, an enzyme that seems to play a key role in programmed cell death – also known as apoptosis – and inflammation. Pfizer inherited an interest in caspase via its 2003 merger with Pharmacia, which had an active programme in this area [[16/04/03d]].

The latest acquisition is further evidence of Pfizer’s desire to build a franchise in oncology – and its willingness to buy up companies that can help it fulfil that ambition. To bolster its activities in this area – represented recently only by Aromasin (exemestane) for breast cancer - the drugmaker recently bought a flagship cancer drug in the form of Campto (irinotecan), acquired from Aventis ahead of its merger with Sanofi-Synthelabo [[28/06/04b]]. Meanwhile, it recently reported encouraging Phase III trial of SU11248 in stomach cancer [[14/02/05d]], a drug acquired along with Sugen in 1999, and has follow-up to Campto, called edotecarin, in late-stage clinical testing.

Buying Idun brings Pfizer a lead caspase inhibitor, IDN-6556, which is in Phase II clinical trials for use in liver transplant patients and patients infected with hepatitis C. Pfizer said clinical data indicate that the treatment is well tolerated and significantly improves markers of liver damage. Idun also has a caspase-1 inhibitor called IDN-1114 in preclinical development, which is intended as a treatment for inflammatory diseases. And it boasts a patent portfolio of more than 150 issued patents covering drug targets, new chemical entities, drug-screening assays, diagnostics and antibodies, Pfizer said.

Other companies that have looked into the use of caspase inhibitors as therapeutics include Merck & Co, Antisoma of the UK [[29/07/02f]], and Maxim Pharmaceuticals, Myriad Genetics and Vertex Pharmaceuticals in the US.

- Meanwhile, Pfizer says that three senior leaders – Karen Katen, Jeff Kindler and David Shedlarz – will each become vice chairmen and join chairman and chief executive, Hank McKinnell, on the newly formed Pfizer Executive Committee, which will be responsible for the strategic direction and operations of the company.

Ms Katen, formerly president of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, was named president of Pfizer Human Health, the global operating group encompassing drug discovery and development, manufacturing, distribution and commercialisation. Mr. Kindler, who oversees the company's legal affairs worldwide and serves as general counsel, will also assume management responsibility for corporate affairs. Mr Shedlarz, who oversees operations including finance, strategic planning, global sourcing and information systems, will also take on responsibility for human resources. Resources. With his promotion to vice chairman, Mr Shedlarz will end his tenure as chief financial officer, which will be taken up by Alan Levin.