Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Pfizer Spins Off New Firm for Some Rare Disease Drugs

  • Drugmaker to license four products to the spinoff, SpringWorks
  • Other investors in $103 million funding round include Bain

Pfizer Inc. will spin off four experimental drugs that it had decided to shelve into a new company, called SpringWorks Therapeutics, to give them a better chance to get developed with the backing of outside investors including Bain Capital.

Three of the drugs are for rare diseases, including two that are ready to be tested in late-stage trials. Being part of SpringWorks will help them get approved to treat undeserved populations, said Lara Sullivan, the new company’s president. Some biotechnology firms, including Tesaro Inc. and Puma Biotechnology Inc., have had success acquiring and developing once-shelved drugs.

“There’s good science and constrained budgets,” said Sullivan, who helped lead strategy for New York-based Pfizer’s early-stage pipeline until last month. “Some science, while still good, does better in an alternative home.”

Pfizer contributed an undisclosed amount to $103 million in funding for SpringWorks. Along with private equity firm Bain Capital, investors include health-care investment firm OrbiMed Advisors and LifeArc, a medical research charity. Pfizer said it will retain a stake and be eligible for royalties and milestone payments.

The new company may eventually go public but the funding is enough to complete late-stage trials for the two leading drugs, file for their approval, and start mid-stage studies for the two other products, said SpringWorks Chief Financial Officer Saqib Islam, a former executive at Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Drug Assets

Among SpringWorks’s furthest along treatments is nirogacestat. The drug is ready for a late-stage trial to treat desmoid tumors, a slow-growing, non-metastatic tumor that affects 900 to 1,200 people each year and has no approved therapy in the U.S. Pfizer ceased testing the pill in breast cancer but the National Institutes of Health continued investigating it in desmoid tumors.

The other drug about to begin a late-stage study targets neurofibromatosis, a genetic mutation disorder that can cause non-cancerous tumors to form on the skin and affects one in 3,000 people in the U.S. SpringWorks will also develop treatments for hereditary xerocytosis, a rare form of anemia with no approved treatments in the U.S., and for post-traumatic stress disorder.

SpringWorks grew out of a two-year review of Pfizer drugs that Sullivan started in 2015 with Pfizer Chief Medical Officer Freda Lewis-Hall, who will sit on SpringWorks’s board. Conversations with Bain Capital began last summer, Sullivan said.

(Corrects title of new company’s president in second paragraph.)
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