Peer Review

Thomas Wynn makes the leap out of the NIH and into a lead discovery post for Pfizer

Thomas Wynn spent 26 years at the NIH, wrapping up recently as a senior investigator and recognized expert on immunology and fibrosis. And he cites NIH chief Francis Collins as a key factor in his decision to leave the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and head up early discovery in Pfizer’s inflammation and immunology unit.

But in a good way.

During Collins’ lengthy tenure at the NIH, says Wynn, the federal research institute shifted focus to become much more directly involved with drug developers. For Wynn, that meant two active projects with Pfizer where he was able to get a much better look at the pharma giant’s research operations — and they got to know him as well.

“He’s really ushered in a really good collaboration with Big Pharma and biotech,” Wynn tells me about Collins. The NIH always did a lot of great basic science, but in the past there wasn’t the same kind of push to translate that science into drugs.

But that’s changed now. Pfizer’s been undergoing some changes as well, says Wynn, with an eye to melding the way the discovery, preclinical and clinical operations operate.

“We have a pretty big portfolio of early things we’re looking at,” he says, with better models for evaluating early targets. Fibrosis is just one of the spotlights, he adds, ticking off other specialties like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis and lupus.

Wynn says he’s excited about making the migration into Big Pharma circles, something we’ve been seeing a lot of as academic and government scientists are drawn into the big research hubs where the largest R&D operations have been concentrating their forces. There have been multiple examples of that, with plenty more to come, as top investigators are recruited throughout biopharma. Wynn’s particularly happy about moving into Cambridge, MA, with a lab in the pharma giant’s new Kendall Square digs.

In his new job, he can work with a wide variety of investigators in Pfizer, and throughout the hub.

“That’s my major motivation for coming here; doing collaborations in drug development,” says Wynn. “I can do it at a much higher level. At Pfizer there are experts in all these areas. As a basic scientist, I have lots of great ideas, I may have 20 great ideas. With the experts here, I can have meetings and say, of those 20, which are the best? Which targets can I develop a small molecule with.”

It’s that one molecule that will make all the difference.

Says Wynn: “I think if I could get even one really big drug that made a big impact on the health of patients I would look back and feel proud of what I did.”


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