Pfizer-backed startup SpringWorks Therapeutics launches with rights to four drugs

SpringWorks Therapeutics on Monday announced the company's launch with $103 million in financing, as well as rights to four experimental drugs from Pfizer. The four therapies include nirogacestat for use in patients with desmoid tumours, the potential neurofibromatosis treatment PD-0325901, senicapoc for hereditary xerocytosis and PF-0445784 to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to SpringWorks, the drugmaker was originally conceived by Pfizer as "an innovative way to advance investigational therapies that may hold significant promise for underserved patients." The company added that Pfizer's contribution consists of both equity capital and royalty- and milestone-bearing licenses to experimental therapies. 

Freda Lewis-Hall, chief medical officer at Pfizer, remarked "we're left with some compounds that we think have great promise for patients, but are not necessarily core." She said Pfizer sees SpringWorks "as a groundbreaking new model for collaboration to deliver on the promise of medical R&D," adding that it "started as an idea about a new way to get things done." For related analysis, see Spotlight On: Pfizer turns biotech – is the Big Pharma giant learning from its mistakes?

Pfizer will not receive an upfront payment from SpringWorks as part of the agreement, although it will be eligible for undisclosed payments tied to clinical development milestones, as well as royalties on sales of approved products. Lewis-Hall noted that if the model is successful, Pfizer could transfer additional assets to SpringWorks, which may eventually also licence products from other companies and academic institutions. 

SpringWorks said it is set to begin late-stage development of the gamma-secretase inhibitor nirogacestat in desmoid tumours and the MEK 1/2 inhibitor PD-0325901 in neurofibromatosis type 1. In addition, SpringWorks has decided to develop the Gardos channel blocker senicapoc for hereditary xerocytosis after the drug previously failed in a Phase III study of patients with sickle cell anaemia. Meanwhile, the experimental FAAH inhibitor PF-0445784, which SpringWorks plans to test in PTSD, was being developed by Pfizer as a potential pain therapy when a Phase I trial of another FAAH inhibitor from Bial caused brain death in one patient and neurological damage in others. Lara Sullivan, who will serve as president of SpringWorks, said the FDA has reviewed data on PF-0445784 and allowed the company to move ahead with testing.

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The startup will be led by executive chairman Daniel Lynch, while Sullivan will leave her role as head of portfolio strategy for Pfizer's early-stage pipeline and medical collaboration funding platform to serve as president. Other executives include chief financial officer Saqib Islam, who previously held senior positions at Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Moderna Therapeutics, as well as L. Mary Smith, who will be leaving her role as vice president of product development at United Therapeutics to work as SpringWorks' vice president of clinical R&D. 

The move comes after Johnson & Johnson participated in a $28.4-million round of financing for the startup firm Provention Bio in June. However, Medicxi Ventures partner David Grainger noted that the SpringWorks deal "is the biggest one of these that we've seen." 

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