Centrexion farms out pain drug to Lilly for $47.5M and could reap much more

Centrexion is developing CNTX-0290 for chronic pain linked to inflammatory, neuropathic and mixed pain conditions. (rawpixel)

Eli Lilly is paying $47.5 million upfront to license Centrexion Therapeutics’ phase 1 non-opioid pain drug. As the Big Pharma works on the program, Centrexion stands to net up to $575 million in development and regulatory milestones as well as another $375 million if the drug makes it to market. 

The program, dubbed CNTX-0290, is an agonist of small molecule somatostatin receptor type 4 (SSTR4). Centrexion is developing it for chronic pain linked to inflammatory, neuropathic and mixed pain conditions. It is the biotech’s second most advanced drug behind the osteoarthritis med CNTX-4975, a synthesized form of capsaicin, the compound that makes chili peppers spicy. 

"This collaboration marks an important step for Centrexion in the progress of its pipeline and demonstrates our ability to identify promising early stage assets working at new targets for chronic pain and efficiently take them through to development," said Jeffrey Kindler, the former Pfizer CEO who now helms Centrexion, in a statement. "Lilly's robust pain management portfolio and successful track record developing and commercializing novel therapies make them an ideal company to advance CNTX-0290.” 

Though Lilly now has exclusive worldwide rights to the drug, the partners could decide to sell it together in the U.S. 

Jeff Kindler retired from Pfizer in 2010 and joined the team that would launch Centrexion in 2013. Three years later, the company added a trio of programs licensed from Boehringer Ingelheim—CNTX-0290 (the drug it’s licensing out to Lilly), CNTX-6970, a selective cytokine CCR2 antagonist and CNTX-6016, a cannabinoid CB2 agonist. 

The company raised $67 million in January 2018 to bankroll a phase 3 study for CNTX-4975, its lead drug, in knee osteoarthritis. That study will follow a phase 2b trial in which a single injection of the drug improved pain with walking for 24 weeks.

“There is an urgent need for safer, more effective approaches to treating chronic pain, which is why we are thrilled to work with Centrexion to deliver on the promise of their exciting pipeline of novel, non-addictive pain therapeutics,” said Sara Nayeem, M.D., a partner at New Enterprise Associates, at the time. NEA led the series D round with new and existing investors including Quan Capital and ArrowMark Partners, with funds advised by Clough Capital Partners also pitching in.