Pfizer sells midphase inflammatory drugs to mystery startup, exiting race against Bristol Myers

Albert Bourla incoming Pfizer CEO
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D. (Pfizer)

Pfizer is getting out of TYK2. Having studied its lead inhibitor in a raft of inflammatory diseases, the Big Pharma is offloading the portfolio to a new company in return for a 25% stake in the startup.

Bristol Myers Squibb has made the early running in the TYK2 space, bringing deucravacitinib through clinical tests that led it to predict blockbuster sales. While deucravacitinib suffered a recent setback in ulcerative colitis, the positive trials point to the prospect of TYK2 inhibitors delivering biologic-like efficacy in an oral dosage form. Pfizer was positioned to challenge BMS for the market. 

Now, Pfizer has revealed it is partnering its TYK2 assets. In disclosing the move, CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., told (PDF) investors Pfizer has granted an exclusive license to “a new company formed in collaboration with a partner that has a proven track record in late-stage inflammation and immunology drug development.” The deal covers two candidates, brepocitinib and PF-06826647, that are in phase 2.

The new company will direct all future development decisions but Pfizer has retained opportunities to profit from the successes of the candidates, through a 25% stake in the startup and the retention of certain ex-U.S. commercial rights. 

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Bourla said the deal will “enable the allocation of resources to advance development of brepocitinib and TYK2 while allowing Pfizer to focus on diversifying its pipeline.” In that regard, the transaction is somewhat reminiscent of how Pfizer offloaded candidates to Cerevel Therapeutics and SpringWorks Therapeutics, although TYK2, part of the JAK family, covers a different therapeutic area. 

The latest transaction is part of the broader pursuit of “a variety of options for advancing additional JAK inhibitor assets,” Bourla said. Against a backdrop of a FDA warning about JAK inhibitors, the CEO said Pfizer remains confident in the importance of the class of medicines “for appropriate patients with inflammatory diseases.”

Pfizer disclosed the sale of the TYK2 assets alongside news of the removal of assets from its phase 1 pipeline. The early-phase cull saw Pfizer remove solid tumor prospect PF-06952229 and pulmonary arterial hypertension candidate PF-06842874 from its list of active programs.