Centrexion Therapeutics, a Boston-based startup led by ex-Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler, just raised $67 million to bring its painkiller drug into Phase III trials. If it works, the treatment should appease regulators concerned with addiction problems, as the drug is a non-opioid and non-steroid way to treat pain.
“I believe the opioid crisis is a product of a pain crisis,” Kindler tells me. “Non-addictive, non-steroidal alternatives to opioids are an enormous need.”
The new Series D cash will move Centrexion’s lead program for osteoarthritis-related knee pain into Phase III trials. The drug program, called CNTX-4975, is a synthetic, ultra-potent and pure form of capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Capsaicin has long been used as a topical analgesic, but Kindler says the company has developed a patented injection procedure that allows the meds to be delivered directly to the site of pain.
The drug targets the TRPV1 receptor and aims to deactivate pain fibers that send pain signals from the knee straight to the brain. Kindler is quick to point out that “turns that signal off without affecting other local pain fibers that affect things like touch, pressure, and position.” That means they’re not seeing off target effects, like with systemic therapies, he said.
A single injection should work for six months, until the fibers regenerate to start flashing those signals again.
CNTX-4975 will enter two Phase III trials in this indication – one that tests a single dose, and one that looks at a repeat dose after month six. The drug is also Phase III-ready as a veterinary drug for canine OA pain, and for Morton’s neuroma pain. However, Kindler said the new financing round was specifically for knee OA pain.
For the new round, New Enterprise Associates led the financing with participation from new and existing investors, including Quan Capital and ArrowMark Partners, among others. As part of the financing, Centrexion named NEA partner Sara Nayeem and Quan’s managing director Stella Xu to its board of directors.
Centrexion, founded in 2013, is a still a rather small startup employing only 12 people in Boston. The company has managed to recruit a board and C-suite stocked with heavyweights. Other than Kindler himself, who was chairman and CEO of Pfizer before taking the helm at Centrexion, the team also includes Randall Stevens, who played a key role in getting five approved drugs to market (including Rituxan), and Sol Barer, who helped found Celgene.
“We’ve built an extraordinary team with a track record of development and commercialization,” Kindler said. “In our company’s fairly short existence, we’ve managed to build the largest pipeline of non-opioid and non-steroidal pain treatments in the industry.”
Other than CNTX-4975, Centrexion also has separate programs in inflammatory, neuropathic, and superficial pain.
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