In search for next-gen Covid treatment, Pfizer taps tiny biotech for research deal
Pfizer has inked a deal to develop a new Covid therapy with Clear Creek Bio — a 10-person biotech out of RA Capital with an office in Cambridge, MA, but one that operates fully remotely.
Paxlovid has become a big moneymaker for Pfizer this year, projecting $22 billion in sales on the year. But the Big Pharma has begun its search for a next-generation Covid antiviral and potential combination therapies as supply of Paxlovid greatly eclipses actual use of the antiviral.
While Paxlovid binds to Mpro, the new deal centers around Mpro’s sister, the viral enzyme papain-like protease (PLpro), both of which the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs in order to build its RNA copier machine — the replicase protein complex that helps it make more of itself. The duo will work together to identify a PLpro inhibitor, but Pfizer will take sole responsibility for any work in the clinic and beyond.
Pfizer will pay Clear Creek Bio an undisclosed upfront payment, and will be on the line for potential milestone payments and royalties on product sales. In an interview with Endpoints News, Clear Creek Bio’s CEO Vikram Sheel Kumar declined to share any more financial details on the deal, though he did say that Clear Creek Bio was “in a position where we don’t need to raise money. This partnership allows us to drive this program to where we think it needs to go.”
Kumar, a venture partner at RA Capital, started Clear Creek Bio in 2017 as a cancer therapeutics company after he lost his father to cancer. Before Clear Creek, he worked in health software, co-founding the health data company Dimagi in 2008.
When the pandemic hit, Clear Creek Bio, like other biotechs, transitioned to looking for Covid treatments. They started with their lead cancer candidate brequinar, a drug that inhibits dihydroorotate dehydrogenase. Brequinar started with DuPont Pharmaceuticals and then moved to Bristol Myers Squibb when it bought DuPont in 2001. In 2017, it found a place at Clear Creek Bio. But brequinar as a Covid treatment was “not enough alone,” Kumar said, adding that the biotech is looking to partner off that drug.
In April 2021, Clear Creek Bio got a mandate from its investors to look for new Covid treatments. “That day, we went from a development company to a discovery company,” Kumar said.
The Pfizer collaboration was seeded earlier this year starting with a conversation between RA Capital managing director and Clear Creek Bio board member Andrew Levin and former Pfizer CBO John Young, Kumar said. From that, Kumar connected with Pfizer’s team and hashed out a deal.
Kumar said that moving forward, the PLpro program would be Clear Creek Bio’s main focus.
Pfzer declined to comment beyond the press release for this piece.