Pfizer pulls trigger on Voyager gene therapy capsid deal, clearing it to fire TRACER at CNS disease

Pfizer has delivered a split decision on Voyager Therapeutics’ capsids. After spending one year assessing the capsids, the Big Pharma has paid $10 million to take up its option to use the gene therapy technology against a rare neurological disease target but backed out of the cardiovascular part of the deal. 

Voyager granted Pfizer an option on capsids for use in the treatment of neurologic and cardiovascular diseases one year ago, securing $30 million upfront and early external validation of its decision to pivot to its TRACER capsid discovery platform. The agreement featured a research term that extended to Oct. 1, 2022, during which Pfizer could evaluate the capsids before deciding whether to exercise its options.

In the end, Pfizer exercised its option to use the capsid against a neurologic disease but turned down the chance to advance a cardiovascular program based on Voyager’s technology. The split decision means Voyager will receive $10 million upfront and potentially up to $290 million in milestones but miss out on the up to $300 million in paydays tied to the cardiovascular program. 

Even so, Pfizer’s continued interest in use of Voyager’s capsids in neurological diseases is the strongest external validation yet that the biotech’s platform pivot may pay off. Voyager walked away from first-generation programs in 2021, reverting back to being a preclinical biotech in the belief its TRACER AAV capsids can improve on the RNA expression of existing gene therapy delivery vectors. 

Pfizer saw enough promise in the technology to pay $30 million to take a closer look one year ago, and Novartis coughed up $54 million upfront to secure its own option five months later. Voyager expects Novartis to reach a decision on whether to take up its option by March 2023. 

Shares in Voyager rose more than 14% to $6.45 apiece in the opening hour of trading. The stock has climbed almost 90% this year as ex-Biogen R&D chief Al Sandrock, M.D., Ph.D., has come on board and continued the turnaround plan that began under interim CEO Michael Higgins.