UPDATED: Ex-Pfizer crew snags $27M financing for U.K. drugs startup
When drug giant Pfizer ($PFE) said last year it was pulling the plug on his group's research programs in Sandwich, U.K., Mike Yeadon immediately began to think about carrying on some of his most prized programs at a new company. "That's precisely what we did," he told FierceBiotech in an interview.
Yeadon and his associates have founded their own startup, Ziarco, which has grabbed licenses to several anti-allergy and inflammation drug candidates from Pfizer and nailed down $6 million (£3.75 million) of a $27 million (£16.8 million) Series A round of financing from lead investor Biotechnology Value Fund and Pfizer Venture Investments.
Ziarco has risen from the embers of some of Pfizer's deprioritized respiratory and allergy research programs. As drug giants shelve programs and reevaluate their pipelines, entrepreneurs and venture firms have been feasting on clinically and preclinically validated assets. Last month, for example, the biotech startup Atara Biotherapeutics emerged with licenses to 6 compounds from Amgen ($AMGN) and backing from the venture investor Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Before launching Canterbury, U.K.-based Ziarco, Yeadon was chief scientist in the allergy and respiratory research unit of Pfizer in Sandwich. Pfizer made deep cuts at its Sandwich site last year and sold R&D facilities there this year to Discovery Park Limited. According to a BBC report in August, Pfizer had cut 1,500 jobs in Sandwich since it announced plans to exit research there in February 2011.
Pfizer is now one of Ziarco's business partners. The startup has licensed the drug giant's histamine H4 receptor antagonist (now code-named ZPL-3893787) that could provide a brand-new way to treat asthma, allergic rhinitis, pain and skin inflammation. Ziarco says the drug is the company's lead candidate and has undergone Phase I studies in healthy volunteers. It has also gained rights to a histamine H3 receptor antagonist, a topical cPLA2 inhibitor and other assets from Pfizer.
Yeadon left Pfizer in August 2011 after assisting in the transfer of respiratory assets from the company to generics maker Mylan ($MYL), he said. (Mylan is continuing to research the assets in Sandwich, according to Pfizer.) He co-founded Ziarco with a trio of ex-Pfizer employees, including Steve Liu, who will serve as chief scientist of the startup, Lynn Purkins, who leads clinical development, and Arif Shivji, head of business development and development operations. Yeadon is CEO.
"I'm confident that with these people and these assets, the sky's the limit," he said.
In Sandwich, Pfizer has retained 650 employees focused mostly on pharmaceutical sciences, the company told FierceBiotech in an email. The pharma giant axed bronchodilator development and allergic rhinitis research through the cutbacks in Sandwich, but the company continues to study chronic inflammation of the lungs, including "smoker's cough" or COPD.
- here's the press release
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Editor's note: This story was updated with additional details on Pfizer's operations in Sandwich, U.K., after major cutbacks there.