Four years after buyout, Pfizer spins Icagen ion channel platform back out

XRPro CEO Richie Cunningham

Four years ago, Pfizer ($PFE) spent $56 million to bag Icagen and add its ion channel R&D platform and pipeline in North Carolina with its pain drug development arm in the U.K. But yesterday the pharma giant spun the platform back out to a small contract research group in Cambridge, MA, called XRPro Sciences, which will now combine its operations into an expanded research services operation that will cater to the biopharma industry.

XRPro CEO Richie Cunningham said that the deal includes a multi-year collaboration with the pharma giant, which gave up the platform for pennies on the dollar.

According to an 8-K filed this morning, XRPro is providing a $500,000 upfront, to be paid in installments through early 2016. Another $10.5 million in earn-outs is also up for grabs based on their financial performance.

The newly expanded company, which will operate as Icagen, will integrate ion channel and transporter drug tech that CSO Douglas Krafte and his team of 18 have been working on for years. Their work has covered a variety of fields, including cardiac arrhythmias, sickle cell anemia, asthma, epilepsy and pain. XRPro's 10-person team, meanwhile, has been hawking its expertise in x-ray fluorescence with a variety of customers. The NIH provided a $3 million contract to develop strontium-selective therapies.

What did Pfizer get for its $56 million? Krafte points to one pain drug, PF-05089771--a small-molecule Nav1.7 therapy in the clinic--that came off the platform. Pfizer recently combined its pain and neuroscience pipelines into one division and launched a partnership with Eli Lilly ($LLY) to take a second shot at a Phase III for tanezumab. The pharma giant completed a huge reorganization several years ago but continues to trim and rearrange its R&D operations as it sees fit.

Biotech companies as well as "large pharmas are looking for efficiencies," say Cunningham, and the new Icagen plans to provide that for both small molecule development--Icagen's original area of expertise--along with new work related to biologics.

XRPro has been angling to start trading shares over the counter and files regular financial reports with the SEC.

According to Cunningham, XRPro Chairman Tim Tyson played a key role in landing the Icagen deal. The former CEO of Valeant--where Cunningham worked--went on to run the R&D services outfit Aptuit from 2008 to 2012 and helped make contact with execs at Pfizer.