Rising from the Ashes of Pfizer: The Michigan Contract Research Organization Cluster

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

[Updated and corrected: 11:30 am, 7/7/10] Michigan suffered one heck of a body blow in January 2007. That’s when Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, said it was shutting down its Ann Arbor, MI, research and development center, and eliminating 2,400 jobs.

That’s usually the end of the story, as hardly anybody keep tracks of what happens to a talented group of people like that as they scatter to the wind. But many of the people who honed their skills inside Pfizer and other big companies have found new entrepreneurial outlets to keep doing what they do best at a growing array of contract research organizations (CROs).

Biotech companies, and giant drugmakers like Pfizer, get all the glory when they take risks to come up with billion-dollar molecules that aspire to change the standards of medicine. But behind the scenes in the life sciences industry, there’s a big network of contract research organizations that often perform a lot of the tasks that are critical to making it all happen, such as animal tests, clinical trial design, biostatistics, and more. Established life sciences clusters, like San Francisco and Boston, are teeming with these folks, and there is an emerging cluster of these operators in Michigan as well, filled with people who learned the industry at Pfizer and Parke-Davis before that.

“There is this resource now in Michigan where you can draw on the expertise of the former Pfizer/Parke-Davis,” says Bill Sibold, the CEO of Lycera, a venture-backed company in Plymouth, MI developing drugs for autoimmune diseases. “People don’t think Michigan has this capability, but Michigan does have the capability.”

Contract research organizations have a tough job, especially as the pharmaceutical R&D market becomes increasingly globalized, making it easier for high-quality and low-cost competitors from China and India to grab contracts. But there is an advantage of working with people in close proximity to the innovator company, and being in the same time zone, Sibold says.

To get a handle on just who some of the CROs in Michigan are, and what they do, I asked Lycera founder Gary Glick to provide a few names. He came back with a list of 17 organizations in Michigan that Lycera alone has worked with, and there are more out there, plus individual consultants, he says.

Here’s the list I’ve assembled so far with help from the Lycera guys, with just a brief description I was able to gather from their websites or other sources. If you have any suggestions of CROs based in Michigan that could be added to this list, just send me a note at [email protected] or [email protected].

AA PharmaSyn. This company, founded in 2006 and based in Ann Arbor, MI, is a global chemistry contract research organization. The three senior business and science leaders—Helen Lee, Xue-min Cheng, and Gary Bolton—are all veterans of the former Pfizer R&D center in Michigan.

ADMETRx. This Kalamazoo, MI-based firm helps drugmakers pick candidate molecules that have the best chance of navigating through the clinical trial process required by the FDA. Co-founders Philip Burton and Jay Goodwin both got experience at Pfizer through the former Upjohn Company.

Ann Arbor Pharmacometrics Group. This company offers pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics modeling, which helps drugmakers project how a drug will be absorbed into the body, and metabolized. It also says it provides “model-based clinical trial simulations to support trial designs, program strategy and decision-making.”

Ash Stevens. This Detroit company has been around a full 45 years, developing and making active pharmaceutical ingredients for drugmakers.

Cutting Image Histology. Cutting Image, an Ann Arbor, MI company led by Wendy Rosebury-Smith and Theresa Cody, offers histology, immunohistochemistry, and histopathology services to drugmakers, biotech companies, and academic researchers.

ePharmaCMC. This South Lyon, MI-based firm has expertise in chemistry, manufacturing, and controls (CMC), which is an important part of what the FDA considers when it evaluates new drug applications.

IDSC. This Chelsea, MI-based company, whose name stands for International Discovery Services and Consulting, has a group of 20 people with an average of 28 years of pharmaceutical experience, according to its website. They do a lot of different things in the early phases of drug discovery and development. The team has a record of nominating 100 clinical candidates, 50 compounds in clinical trials, and multiple marketed drugs, according to its website.

Integrated Nonclinical Development Solutions. This Ann Arbor, MI-based company, known as INDS, was founded by a number of Pfizer veterans. It does drug discovery and development consulting. [Updated and corrected: 11:30 am, 7/7/10. An earlier version said INDS does toxicology testing, and while it consults, it doesn’t actually perform toxicology tests.]

Kalexsyn. Kalamazoo, MI-based Kalexsyn provides medicinal chemistry services to drugmakers. CEO David Zimmermann spent 23 years at Upjohn and Pharmacia before he co-founded Kalexsyn.

MPI Research. MPI, based in Mattawan, MI, offers preclinical toxicology services to drugmakers. It says it has conducted “thousands of drug safety, discovery, bioanalytical, and analytical studies.” CEO William Parfet is a former vice chairman and president of The Upjohn Company.

Pharm Optima. The Portage, MI-based company says it focuses on the mid to late phases of drug discovery between target identification and selection of lead compounds,” according to its website.

Philipsen Chemical Patent Search. This Ypsilanti, MI-based firm is owned by Judy Johnson-Philipsen, a former medicinal chemist at Pfizer/Parke-Davis, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Research Essential Services. This Plymouth, MI-based firm, founded by former Pfizer scientists, says it designs and executies “high quality research protocols in a state-of-the-art facility.” President Robert Sigler, a toxicologic pathologist, has 23 years of experience at Parke-Davis, Pfizer, and Esperion Therapeutics.

RTI Laboratories. This Livonia, MI-based firm provides materials science and environmental chemistry services.

TransPharm Preclinical Solutions. This Jackson, MI-based company says it offers “a complete array of studies in infectious disease animal models for the antibiotic discovery industry.” CEO Daniel Ross got his experience at Wayne State University and Pfizer.

Van Andel Research Institute. This Grand Rapids, MI-based research center was founded in 1996, and has about 250 employees and an annual operating budget of about $40 million, according to a fact sheet on the organization’s website.

Velesco Pharma Services. This Ann Arbor, MI-based firm does chemistry/manufacturing/controls work for early stage drug development. It was founded by former Pfizer scientists in 2007. David Barnes, a 19-year veteran of Pfizer, is Velesco’s CEO.

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One response to “Rising from the Ashes of Pfizer: The Michigan Contract Research Organization Cluster”

  1. Julie says:

    Great article! The Pfizer shut down
    certainly left a lot of very talented people without many options. But, I
    believe you’re missing one key organization off of this list – MMS Holdings
    Inc. Dr. Uma Sharma started MMS due to the Pfizer layoffs in 2006. Here is the
    website if you want to take a look: http://www.mmsholdings.com/leadership1/