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AstraZeneca Plc and Biogen Idec Inc. have joined the ranks of local large biotech and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer Inc., which, facing looming patent expirations and unproductive pipelines, are reaching outside their own walls to find new drug candidates.

For Pfizer, that means establishing a new network of academic centers in 2010 to serve as a “farm team” for drug development. Based in Cambridge, The Global Centers for Therapeutic Innovation aims to refill Pfizer’s pipeline with company-academic teams that will work side-by-side to speed drug discovery efforts. Pfizer is facing generic competition in the next few years when patents on some of its blockbuster drugs like Viagra and Lipitor expire. The first partnership is with the University of California, San Francisco. Pfizer plans to expand the program to Europe and Asia next year.

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