Pfizer taps risk-sharing researcher Avillion for cancer PhIII

Contract researcher Avillion launched last year with a novel approach to contract drug development, planning to team up with Big Pharmas on late-stage assets and take drugs to the finish line in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Now the London company has reeled in a big-name partner in Pfizer ($PFE), signing on to run a Phase III study of the cancer-fighting Bosulif.

Under the deal, Avillion will pay for and conduct a late-stage study of Bosulif to support an FDA application to get the drug approved as a first-line therapy for patients with a form of chronic myelogenous leukemia--the oral treatment is already cleared for those who've failed with prior therapy. In exchange, Pfizer will hand over undisclosed milestone payments upon approval, Avillion said, and the drugmaker will retain global commercial rights.

Avillion opened its doors with backing from Clarus Ventures and Abingworth, recruiting Chiltern veteran Lewis Cameron to serve as CEO. The company scouts for late-stage assets that are between $50 million and $100 million from the goal, taking on the front-end risk with the promise of a either lump sum or royalties from its partner.

Risk-sharing arrangements--in which CROs stretch beyond the usual contractor relationship and take a financial stake in a drug--are becoming more and more popular in the drug development world, including WuXi PharmaTech's ($WX) partnership with Ambrx, inVentiv Health's collaboration with Oncobiologics and Ergomed's co-development tie-up with Cel-Sci ($CVM).

But despite the potential paydays involved in such deals, many CROs prefer to keep their client relationships more platonic, worrying that the high-risk game of drug development could wreck their thin margins or preferring to stay out of any arrangement that could force them to compete with their other partners.

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