Yale and Pfizer Launch Visiting Professorship Pilot Program

Yale School of Medicine and Pfizer Global Research have launched a pilot program to enhance scientific interactions between Pfizer and Yale.

The program also provides Yale faculty with an improved understanding of the drug discovery process in order to counsel its students more effectively on career opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry.

This novel visiting professorship program was developed and sponsored by Pfizer’s Discovery Laboratories in Groton, the Women Leaders Network at Pfizer and the Office for Women in Medicine at Yale.

The first visiting professorship has been awarded to Yale researcher Nita Maihle, who will spend 12 weeks working with the research team at Pfizer Global Research and Development, Groton/New London Labs. Maihle, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, will be matched with a Pfizer scientific collaborator.

“I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to enhancing my own research program and facilitating associations among other Yale investigators and Pfizer staff,” said Maihle, who is also affiliated with the Yale Cancer Center and is professor in the Departments of Pathology and Pharmacology at Yale.

“The vision for the program is to enhance the scientific understanding between Pfizer and Yale, and we have already seen how beneficial this interaction can be,” said Karen Houseknecht, a Pfizer researcher and President of the Women’s Leadership Network. “Dr. Maihle brings not only her scientific expertise to our labs, but she also serves as a role model for women in science, which is something that we value at Pfizer.”

Maihle, who was recently elected chairperson of Women in Cancer Research Council of the American Association for Cancer Research, has devoted her career to developing a better understanding of what causes cancer. She also studies how to apply this information to improve methods for the care and treatment of cancer patients.

Over the past two decades, Maihle and her colleagues have discovered that the signals that cause cancer cells to grow are different from the signals that cause normal cells to grow. These “short circuits” in cancer cells can be used as drug targets to specifically stop cancer cells from growing. The new drugs Herceptin and Gleevac, are novel and specific agents for the treatment of cancer patients. There is a major effort at Pfizer and elsewhere to develop new agents of this type.

Maihle and her team have developed highly sensitive biochemical assays that may one day be useful for detecting cancer cells anywhere in the body with a simple blood test to detect a tumor long before it is clinically detectable. These assays allow even current treatments to be more effective.

The early detection studies in Maihle’s laboratory are particularly advanced for breast and ovarian cancer patients, but also show promise for prostate, pancreatic and lung, as well as in certain brain tumor patients.

Yale and Pfizer plan to appoint additional visiting professorships in the future. To contact Pfizer, please call Alison Lehanski at 860-732-0670 or e-mail: alison.lehanski@pfizer.com

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326