Pfizer launches competition to boost PCSK9 research pool

Pfizer is offering research grants to support projects advancing knowledge of the importance of PCSK9 in cardiovascular disease, the target of its late-stage drug candidate bococizumab.

The company has launched a competition to offer grants of up to $100,000 to multiple projects that can uncover “new insights about the role of the PCSK9 protein/gene in health and disease”, with a maximum fund of $500,000.

Drugs targeting PCSK9 (proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin type 9) are predicted to become blockbusters as they could help patients with elevated cholesterol who cannot meet their treatment goals with statins alone, or who cannot tolerate them.

Pfizer is in a three-way fight to bring the first PCSK9 inhibitor to market with Amgen and Sanofi/Regeneron whose respective evolocumab and alirocumab candidates have already been filed for approval in the US.

Analysts at Leerink Partners recently predicted that the PCSK9 category will eventually be worth many billions of dollars at its height. They expect evolocumab and alirocumab to lead the market – each with sales of $4 billion or more at peak – with Pfizer’s candidate lagging a little behind.

Pfizer is determined not to be an also-ran in the race, however, and the new competition could help it tease out new applications for bococizumab in areas such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and metabolic disorders, immunology and infectious disease.

The new grants will be run under the auspices of Pfizer’s Advancing Science through Pfizer Investigator Research Exchange (ASPIRE) programme, which also offers competitive grants in areas such as haemophilia, rheumatology and dermatology, endocrine research and neuropathic pain.

The competition is aimed at basic, preclinical and clinical science projects, as well as outcomes/epidemiological research, but is not open to any study involving the use of a PCSK9 inhibitor or investigational drugs.

“One of the most exciting new areas for scientific exploration in cardiovascular disease is focused on PCSK9,” according to Professor John Chapman, director emeritus of the Dyslipidemia and Atherosclerosis Research Unit of the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) at the Pitié-Salpétrière University Hospital in Paris, France.

“It is our earnest desire that the research projects selected will advance the current understanding of PCSK9 biology and in this way contribute significantly to the next generation of potential therapies targeted to cardiovascular diseases.”

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