Ferring's research site closure signals shift from internal to external R&D, CSO says

After more than 25 years, Ferring Pharmaceuticals suddenly shuttered a San Diego research institute in March just months after finishing a major renovation. It's all part of the plan, says Chief Scientific Officer Armin Metzger, Ph.D.

The research executive, now in his seventh year with Ferring, said that the company is making a concerted pivot toward external innovation to make the best use of capital following two FDA approvals at the end of 2022. It's a shift that Metzger describes as a "fundamental" change.

"We will still have internal discovery, but [be] much, much more external focused, giving more flexibility of allocating funds," he said in an interview with Fierce Biotech.

The clear-eyed assessment of the company’s priorities set the record straight as to why the Ferring Research Institute, one of the company’s three main R&D hubs, closed after 27 years. The move resulted in nearly 90 staffers being laid off and came after Ferring finished renovations on the institute just last year. 

“[T]he turning point was that we got two FDA approvals of two first-in-class assets in one year,” said Metzger. “And this leads to the adaptation, again of the strategy—how we deliver innovation to the patients—and it is not an easy decision-making process.” 

In November 2022, Ferring nabbed FDA approval for the first fecal microbiota product, Rebyota, for adults with C. difficile following antibiotic treatment or recurrent infection. Just a few weeks later, gene therapy Adstiladrin was approved for bladder cancer. 

The new strategy is not a complete departure from Ferring’s existing work, as those now-approved assets originated from deals. Ferring acquired Rebiotix in April 2018, tacking on the C. difficile treatments, and then a month later, the Swiss pharma signed a commercialization agreement with FKD Therapies for the bladder cancer treatment.

“I think a company of our size, with the investment needed now on the later stage, we can't entertain technology platforms in-house,” said Metzger, who added that Ferring will instead rely on "partnerships across the globe.”

Ferring’s main therapeutic areas are remaining unchanged, however, including maternal and reproductive health, which Metzger called “the core” of the company. One of the priorities is bringing the infertility treatment Rekovelle to the U.S. after it nabbed approval in Europe and Switzerland. He expects feedback from the FDA in the second half of the year. 

In addition to Rekovelle, infertility treatments LutrePulse and Menopur are under development, along with Pabal, a med for postpartum hemorrhage. 

But the clinical-stage work is in limbo. A phase 2 trial for a treatment to address inadequate milk production, merotocin, was shuttered earlier this year due to low enrollment and a phase 2 infertility treatment is now absent from the company’s pipeline. A spokesperson for Ferring did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missing program. 

Regardless, Metzger says that in the next year, the company hopes to bolster its portfolio, including potentially boosting the indications for merotocin. This could also mean combination opportunities and female and male infertility assets from Ferring's reproductive medicine pipeline.