Spying synthetic lethal promise, Pfizer bets $25M on Zentalis, will support cancer trials

Pfizer is throwing its weight behind Zentalis Pharmaceuticals’ synthetic lethality candidate, making a $25 million investment in its new partner and agreeing to jointly advance the prospect through the clinic.

Zentalis is retaining full economic ownership of the synthetic lethal Wee1 inhibitor ZN-c3 while securing money and expertise from Pfizer. The investment will see Pfizer buy almost 1 million Zentalis shares at $26.21 a pop, well above the sub-$22 closing price of the stock on Tuesday. Shares in Zentalis rose 13% in the wake of the news, climbing up toward the $25 mark.

The money, which extends Zentalis’ cash runway out into the first quarter of 2024, will support clinical trials of ZN-c3 and ZN-d5, an oral inhibitor of BCL-2 that is in development in blood cancers including acute myeloid leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Zentalis, working through its K-Group Beta subsidiary, is running phase 1/2 trials of ZN-c3 in a range of solid tumors including ovarian cancer and uterine serous carcinoma. The indications overlap with a focus of Pfizer’s oncology operation, meaning an agreement to collaborate on clinical development of ZN-c3 positions Zentalis to tap into Pfizer’s expertise in the area.

“Given Pfizer’s deep expertise in developing treatments for genitourinary cancers, we are proud not only to receive capital support but to partner with them to develop a potential treatment option for patients living with cancer,” Zentalis CEO Anthony Sun, M.D., said in a statement. 

Pfizer’s Adam Schayowitz, Ph.D., will join the scientific advisory board at Zentalis and provide input on its clinical development strategy. ZN-c3 and ZN-d5, which Zentalis is studying as a combination, are now the focus of the clinical development plan. 

In a statement to explain why its cash runway, which previously ran out in the third quarter of 2023, now extends into 2024, Zentalis said it is prioritizing clinical development of ZN-c3 and ZN-d5 and reallocating its budget. Zentalis’ pipeline also features ZN-c5, an oral selective estrogen receptor degrader (SERD) that is in phase 1/2 development in breast cancer. The oral SERD space features Roche and Sanofi and has been hit by the failures of clinical trials. 

For Pfizer, the deal continues its effort to provide money and support to biotechs with programs that may be of strategic interest to it in the future. Pfizer has invested in a clutch of publicly traded companies including Homology Medicines and Trillium Therapeutics through the initiative.