In 1994, then-junior faculty member Seth Orlow, a dermatology professor who's now the chairman of the department, didn’t realize it, but superdrug Viagra® was in development at Pfizer and interest was growing at the pharmaceutical giant in moving in that direction: treating non-life threatening conditions. Soon, Orlow and three of his dermatology colleagues were in discussions with Pfizer about how they might use pharmaceutical-style discovery techniques to identify active agents for “cosmeceutical” purposes—now a familiar notion, but then quite novel.
The group soon found themselves at the heart of a new venture, Anaderm, funded in 1995 to comb through Pfizer’s drug library of more than 600,000 compounds in search of promising treatments for skin discoloration, hair loss and wrinkles. In addition to Pfizer, OSI Pharmaceuticals was an investor and research partner. A major R&D agreement was signed with NYU, and NYU and the four faculty members received equity in the company. One promising topical agent was identified based on the NYU scientists’ research and input. Human clinical studies were conducted with the compound, but development was ultimately terminated. The initial three-year research-funding agreement was renewed for another three years, under the oversight of Pfizer's R&D personnel.
After six years, Pfizer saw enough promise that it exercised its right to buy out all the other shareholders, acquiring Anaderm in 2002. “It was a great learning experience,” says Seth Orlow, “for our labs to get science done on scale we couldn’t have otherwise achieved, and to teach those of us who wanted to learn from the inside about drug development and biotechnology.”