Connect Biopharma uncouples from Pfizer by scrapping long-standing eczema pact

Connect Biopharma is uncoupling from Pfizer, returning the rights to an eczema candidate it picked up in 2012 to free up cash to advance its two lead programs. 

Chinese-American biotech Connect licensed the oral, peripherally acting H3R antagonist, dubbed CBP-174, in 2012 from Arena Pharmaceuticals, a company that Pfizer bought for $6.7 billion a decade later. Connect identified the small molecule as complementary to its anti-IL-4Ra antibody CBP-201 and Regeneron and Sanofi’s rival drug Dupixent.

By treating chronic itch associated with skin inflammation, Connect figured CBP-174 could provide fast relief of a bothersome eczema symptom to help patients as they wait for the effect of CBP-201 to kick in. Connect has abandoned that vision.

The biotech is continuing to develop CBP-201, now called rademikibart, in indications including eczema but has decided to terminate the license agreement for CBP-174. Connect took the action to “maximize resources and extend its cash runway.” The biotech is also halting all preclinical and discovery programs.

Connect ended last year with $118.7 million, a sum it forecasts will keep it going into at least 2026.

Scrapping the Pfizer deal frees Connect from the need to pay a license maintenance fee. Since licensing the asset, Connect has recorded an annual consultancy fee for maintaining the license as part of its R&D costs. The biotech paid $7.5 million in professional service fees, the line item that includes the license payment, last year, down from more than $10 million in both of the two previous years. 

Connect can now funnel cash into rademikibart and icanbelimod. The biotech reported global phase 2b data in asthma and pivotal Chinese data in eczema for rademikibart late last year. Simcere has picked up rights to the asset in all indications in China. Connect is continuing to look for other partners for the asset along with icanbelimod, a modulator of S1P1 T-cell receptors that is in development in ulcerative colitis.