Backed by Bain, Pfizer loads prime CNS assets into new biotech

Pfizer has followed through on its pledge to divest a hunk of its neuroscience R&D, spinning several programs into a new company called Cerevel Therapeutics backed by $350 million in venture funding.

Pfizer is contributing a trio of clinical-stage drug candidates—including a Parkinson’s therapy due to start phase 3 testing next year—plus a clutch of earlier-stage programs, while Bain Capital and affiliates stumped up the initial funding.

It’s an approach the Big Pharma company also adopted last year when it hived off its rare disease assets into a company called SpringWorks, backed by Bain Capital and others including Double Impact, Orbimed and LifeArc.

The Cerevel spinoff “is similar [to SpringWorks], albeit on a larger scale in terms of number of assets, capital committed, and commercial potential,” explain Chris Gordon and Adam Koppel, M.D., Ph.D., managing directors at Bain Capital Private Equity and Bain Capital Life Sciences, respectively, who note there is also more cash in the offing if needed.

“It is a model that makes a lot of sense for pharma companies, if they can find the right partner,” they told FierceBiotech. This type of deal can push forward “assets that might not be optimally developed internally … while maintaining involvement and economic upside.”

Pfizer is retaining a 25% share in Cerevel, and two of its senior executives—Doug Giordano, senior VP of worldwide business development, and Morris Birnbaum, M.D., Ph.D., senior VP and chief scientific officer of internal medicine—will sit on the new company’s board alongside Gordon and Koppel. For now, there’s no word on who will fill the CEO role and other top positions.

Cerevel starts life with a pipeline headed by PF-06649751, a dopamine 1 partial agonist for Parkinson’s that is due to start a phase 3 study next year.

Following after are two phase 2-ready programs, including GABA 2/3 antagonist PF-06372865 for epilepsy and an M4 positive allosteric modulator that Cerevel will explore in “a psychosis-related indication,” according to Gordon and Koppel.

The remainder of Pfizer’s donated assets are all preclinical projects with “a diverse set of mechanisms [and] target indications currently in disease-modifying Parkinson’s, addiction/substance abuse disorder, psychosis, and neuroinflammation,” they noted.

Pfizer isn’t alone in deciding to downsize its direct involvement in central nervous system drug development, which tends to have a lower chance of success and higher costs than other therapeutic categories.

Other Big Pharma companies such as Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Merck have also cut back on CNS since its heyday in the late 20th century, when psychiatric drugs for diseases like schizophrenia and depression featured prominently among the top-selling medicines in the world, in favor of more lucrative areas such as cancer and diabetes

“When Pfizer made the decision to exit internal neuroscience research, we determined that the most effective way to maximize the potential value to patients of a promising clinical and preclinical portfolio would be to invest in external opportunities with high expertise and dedicated focus in CNS,” said Birnbaum.

“We are convinced that Cerevel represents such an opportunity and will continue to develop the Pfizer compounds, fulfilling our responsibility to patients and our goal to invest in biotech companies conducting promising neuroscience research in areas of urgent unmet need.”