Cougar founder snags Pfizer cancer drug, raises $55M and launches new biotech

The former CEO and founder of Cougar Biotechnology, Alan Auerbach, is back in the business of developing cancer drugs. In a series of maneuvers unveiled yesterday, Auerbach's Puma Biotechnology acquired a shell company and went public in a reverse merger, raised $55 million in a private placement, inked a deal for the rights to a late-stage cancer drug from Pfizer ($PFE) and scrapped two clinical studies as he changed the development strategy.

Cougar, of course, made a name for itself as the developer of abiraterone, better known these days as the newly approved Zytiga, a prostate cancer drug that J&J ($JNJ) snagged when it bought out Cougar for a cool billion dollars in cash. Now Auerbach will focus his attention on neratinib, which Pfizer has been studying in Phase II and Phase III trials for HER-2 positive breast cancer.

In its release, Los Angeles-based Puma said it wants to fine tune the development program, zeroing in on patients with "HER2-positive locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer who have received prior trastuzumab-based therapy. Neratinib has previously been tested in numerous clinical trials both as single agent and in combination with other anticancer drugs in this patient population. In these studies, neratinib demonstrated substantial clinical activity and was well tolerated. Based on the results of these studies, Puma intends to initiate clinical trials in this patient population in the first half of 2012." 

Neratinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that tackles some common epidermal growth factor receptors: EGFR, HER2 and HER4 kinases.

This is just the latest in a string of outlicensing deals for Pfizer, which is downsizing its pipeline as it carves billions of dollars out of its R&D budget.

- here's the Puma release