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Pfizer spins out shelved experimental drugs

Pfizer is taking Johnson & Johnson to court. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

SpringWorks Therapeutics, a rare disease drug development startup, has raised $103 million in Series A funding from Pfizer, Bain Capital Life Sciences, Bain Capital Double Impact, Orbimed and LifeArc. The company is launching with four compounds licensed from Pfizer, including a pair – one in desmoid tumor and another for neurofibromatosis – that are ready for Phase 3 clinical trials. Pfizer also has some royalty rights via the transaction, although financial details were not disclosed.

Why it matters: Because big pharma rarely pays much attention to its shelved experimental compounds, let alone create a spin-out company to further develop them.

But that's what Pfizer did here, spearheaded by a strategy exec named Lara Sullivan who now leads SpringWorks. It could become a model for Pfizer's peers, many of which have just out-licensed compounds on a one-off basis to inbound third parties. As for SpringWorks, it intends to acquire other candidates from non-Pfizer sources (both corporate and academic).

Bottom line from Xconomy's Bed Fidler: "Pharma companies scrap development of experimental drugs all the time. Sometimes those drugs don't work or are unsafe. Other times they no longer fit a company's strategic goals, or they might be best suited for a different disease. Maybe they even lose an internal fight for interest and resources, and the cash to run larger, more expensive trials is put elsewhere."