Pfiz­er biotech spin­out nabs $125M megaround as Bain-backed syn­di­cate bets on its late-stage game plan

Spring­Works Ther­a­peu­tics launched in the fall of 2017 with a whop­ping $103 mil­lion round and some well-de­vel­oped Pfiz­er as­sets that the com­pa­ny had high hopes for. And now Bain, Pfiz­er and the rest of the found­ing in­vestors have joined hands with an even big­ger group of in­vestors led by Per­cep­tive to bankroll a pair of late-stage stud­ies ready to be­gin in a mat­ter of weeks.

The Se­ries B weighs in at a heavy­weight $125 mil­lion, bring­ing their to­tal raise to $228 mil­lion, with ac­cess to more if need­ed.

The fo­cus of this lat­est megaround is cen­tered on two drugs that are be­ing re­pur­posed for rare dis­eases: nirogace­s­tat, a gam­ma sec­re­tase in­hibitor for the treat­ment of desmoid tu­mors (rare soft tis­sue tu­mors), and PD-0325901, a MEK in­hibitor for the treat­ment of neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis type 1-as­so­ci­at­ed plex­i­form neu­rofi­bro­mas. 

Both of these tar­gets are well de­fined, with mul­ti­ple tri­als for re­lat­ed drugs over the past decade or more. The gam­ma sec­re­tase in­hibitor was born in the Alzheimer’s field, where Eli Lil­ly ex­pe­ri­enced a colos­sal dis­as­ter years ago. That MEK in­hibitor, Spring­Works ex­ecs say, al­so has po­ten­tial to make good as a back­bone com­bi­na­tion drug in on­col­o­gy, fol­low­ing oth­er ap­proved ther­a­pies.

Im­age: Saqib Is­lam. CHECK­RARE via YOUTUBE

The big fi­nanc­ing takes the com­pa­ny all the way through the two late-stage stud­ies, says CEO Saqib Is­lam, with a clas­sic cross­roads that could ar­rive in H2 of next year if they do an in­ter­im analy­sis and if it’s pos­i­tive, set­ting up a pos­si­ble FDA ap­pli­ca­tion. The gam­ma sec­re­tase study should read out in ear­ly 2021.

The com­pa­ny, which now has 41 staffers head­ed to about 70 at the end of the year, says the CEO, has the ca­pac­i­ty to go the dis­tance by it­self in rare dis­eases. And as a vet of Alex­ion, Is­lam — who more re­cent­ly did deals for Mod­er­na — says they are ready to do what’s nec­es­sary to launch com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions. Larg­er in­di­ca­tions could be cov­ered with part­ner­ships, and he point­ed to a tie-up they have with BeiGene, com­bin­ing their RAF dimer in­hibitor li­fi­rafenib (BGB-283) with the MEK.

More deals are clear­ly in the works, he adds, which could trig­ger a faster ex­pan­sion of the staff and ca­pa­bil­i­ties at Spring­Works, which has the re­search team in RTP and the cor­po­rate staff now head­quar­tered in Stam­ford, CT.

I asked Is­lam the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: With a syn­di­cate this size with these play­ers, and plans to push through piv­otal tri­als, an IPO would seem to be in the cards as long as the mar­ket holds up. He laughed a lit­tle and lim­it­ed him­self to the stan­dard re­frain: All fi­nanc­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are un­der re­view.

Pfiz­er has helped craft sev­er­al new com­pa­nies like this re­cent­ly. There’s Bain-backed Cerev­el as well as Al­lo­gene from Arie Bellde­grun and David Chang. In every case, Pfiz­er ex­ecs of­floaded as­sets they no longer want­ed in the pipeline, but which they felt had re­al com­mer­cial prospects in the right hands. Is­lam al­so not­ed that they are in­clud­ed in Pfiz­er’s port­fo­lio re­view process, which could al­so trig­ger more deals down the road as Pfiz­er con­tin­ues to shed projects.

Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors led the show for the Se­ries B. New in­vestors par­tic­i­pat­ing in this fi­nanc­ing in­clude Box­er Cap­i­tal of Tavi­s­tock Group, HBM Health­care In­vest­ments, BVF Part­ners, Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal, Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal, Ar­row­Mark Part­ners, Glax­o­SmithK­line, and Lau­ri­on Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, as well as “sev­er­al oth­er long-term in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors.” All of the com­pa­ny’s ex­ist­ing in­vestors – Or­biMed, Bain Cap­i­tal, Pfiz­er, via Pfiz­er Ven­tures, and LifeArc – al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed.

It’s cu­ri­ous to see GSK in­clud­ed here as a di­rect in­vestor. In re­cent months its cor­po­rate ven­ture arm SR One has been ne­go­ti­at­ing to spin out from un­der the phar­ma gi­ant, which is more in­ter­est­ed in us­ing all of its cash in di­rect line with the R&D game plan set by Hal Bar­ron.

Is­lam said he could of­fer on­ly lim­it­ed in­sight in­to GSK’s cor­po­rate in­volve­ment, but added that “they could be a fab­u­lous part­ner for a cou­ple of things down the road.”

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Fabrice Chouraqui, Cellarity CEO

A year and a half af­ter Cel­lar­i­ty raised $123M, the Flag­ship biotech is back — and it's ready to pick out can­di­dates

Cellarity doesn’t have any lead candidates yet. It doesn’t even have a public pipeline.

But it’s still attracting new investors. In a third round of financing announced this morning, Cellarity raised $121 million — just $2 million short of its last round — and brought on four new investors, including Kyowa Kirin and Hanwha Impact Partners.

Flagship, where the startup was first conceived, also participated in the latest round. Most of its other former investors returned as well, Cellarity CEO Fabrice Chouraqui told Endpoints News, though he would not disclose which ones.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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