Pfizer drops sickle cell disease collab with Syros inherited from GBT takeover

Pfizer is walking away from a sickle cell disease licensing deal with Syros Pharmaceuticals that it inherited from its takeover of Global Blood Therapeutics last year.

At tail-end of 2019, GBT agreed to pay Syros $20 million upfront and bankroll at least three years of research funding up to $40 million to discover, develop and commercialize new therapies for sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia. The plan was for Syros to use its gene control platform to identify potential drugs that could induce fetal hemoglobin, with GBT having first choice to pick up the worldwide license to take any resulting candidates through development and on to market.  

With Pfizer’s acquisition of GBT in 2022, the Big Pharma not only inherited an existing pipeline of exciting sickle cell drugs—it also became the partner in Syros’ research collaboration.

But in a July 21 SEC filing, Syros said that it was informed by Pfizer on July 18 that it would be ending the partnership, effective in October. The biotech will now “seek to identify a new out-licensing partner for its sickle cell disease program,” it said in the filing.

In addition to losing a high-profile partner, the end of the agreement also means that Syros must wave goodbye to the $315 million in potential development and sales-based milestone payments that were included as part of the GBT agreement.

Syros ended March with $166 million in cash and equivalents. Syros' $3 million in revenue from the first quarter of this year came from the collaboration with Pfizer.

The biotech’s most advanced asset is tamibarotene, a selective retinoic acid receptor alpha agonist in a phase 3 trial for higher-risk myelodysplastic syndrome as well as a phase 2 study for acute myeloid leukemia. There’s also SY-2101, an oral formulation of arsenic trioxide in phase 1 for acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Meanwhile, Pfizer still has a portfolio of three sickle cell assets acquired from GBT. One of these, Oxbryta, was approved by the FDA in 2019, while inclacumab, a monoclonal antibody targeting a protein called P-selectin, is undergoing a phase 3 trial. A third, a HbS polymerization inhibitor called GBT021601, is in phase 2 development.