UPDATED: Pfizer nabs autoimmune disease drug rights for $25M upfront

Pfizer ($PFE) has stepped in with an upfront check for $25 million to license in rights to an experimental, preclinical program aimed at replacing pooled IVIG therapy for autoimmune diseases.

Currently, patients with autoimmune diseases get transfusions of human intravenous immunoglobulin to bolster their antibody defense system, essential in repelling diseases. But Baltimore-based Gliknik's lead program for GL-2045 is making a bid to do IVIG one better.

"GL-2045 is the first of several innovative drug candidates Gliknik is advancing for people with autoimmune diseases and cancer," said Gliknik CEO David Block in a statement. "We selected Pfizer as our partner to progress GL-2045 from among several interested and capable parties because of its exceptional development, manufacturing and commercial capabilities."

Pfizer also has the deep pockets necessary to spend $25 million for an upfront on a drug like this. The deal is tied to a slate of milestones, which were not revealed today. But the pact does illustrate Pfizer's appetite for new deals since it completed a major restructuring--and downsizing--of its R&D group.

Gliknik's big idea here is that its recombinant Fc fusion protein can be used in much smaller quantities to provide the same or better therapeutic effect than IVIG has. Block tells FierceBiotech that transfusions now can take two days. This new program could potentially offer a major improvement in the lives of patients with autoimmune diseases. The commercial case is also compelling. By steering clear of using human blood in the manufacturing process, Pfizer could be in a position to make an unlimited quantity to replace what is today a $7 billion product which is in high demand.

The sudden change in fortune is dramatic for the semivirtual Gliknik, which has "five-and-a-half employees," according to Block. The CEO has had to execute 9 different fundraisings since the company was founded in the dark days of 2007. Now Gliknik will have enough money to turn to its follow-up programs--two midstage immune modulators as well as other Stradomers from the platform technology that don't compete directly with Pfizer's new program--without having to spend time raising more cash for a while.

Gliknik has raised a total of $22.8 million in venture cash and about $3 million in contracts and grants, says Block, with $12 million of that still in the thrifty group's bank account. And the state of Maryland has come through with some essential support through its biotechnology tax credit program. 

"Were it not for that program I'm not sure we would have made it to this day," notes Block in an e-mail. "For qualified biotech companies in the state of Maryland, investors from any state in the country or even the world receive back 50% of their investment with limitations at the individual, company, and state level. Fabulous program that Governor O'Malley has promoted even through budget shortfalls."

Pfizer is benefiting from Gliknik's survival.

"Pooled IVIG has a long history of use but has a number of limitations," said Jose Carlos Gutiérrez-Ramos, the head of biotherapeutics R&D at Pfizer. "We are pleased to partner with Gliknik on this novel therapeutic approach which may provide an important new option in managing debilitating autoimmune diseases."  

- here's the press release