Jeff Kindler's biotech startup sets out to create a 'pain powerhouse,' bags Boehringer portfolio

Centrexion CEO Jeff Kindler

Back in 2010, when Jeff Kindler was CEO of Pfizer ($PFE), he sanctioned the $3.6 billion buyout of King Pharmaceuticals, adding to a pipeline of pain meds at the pharma giant. Kindler left the pharma giant not long after, replaced by Ian Read. But he never lost his ambition to develop new pain meds.

Kindler now runs Centrexion Therapeutics, a small pain drug biotech co-founded by former Celgene ($CELG) CEO Sol Barer. And today he's pulling the wraps off a deal to in-license a trio of nonopioid pain meds from Boehringer Ingelheim, which is shedding its pain assets as it concentrates on neuropsychiatric conditions.

The goal at Baltimore, MD-based Centrexion, Kindler tells me, is to build a "pain powerhouse" focused on nonopioid, nonaddictive treatments for chronic pain. "We think that today we have the largest and deepest pipeline exclusively focused on nonaddictive treatments for chronic pain."

The company has been developing a program for the injectable capsaicin, known as trans-capsaicin. And it's added a veterinarian strategy that is focused on family pets. Today's deal adds three new early-stage programs with distinctly different mechanisms of action, says Chief Business Officer Kerrie Brady.

  • The most advanced of the new therapies is CNTX-6970, a selective cytokine CCR2 antagonist now past the first stage of a Phase I study.
  • There's IND-ready CNTX-6016, described as a leader in "a new generation of potent and "super-selective" cannabinoid CB2 agonists," which Centrexion says is 20,000 times more selective for the CB2 receptor than for the CB1 receptor, relieving pain without triggering euphoria and other side effects seen with less selective agonists.
  • And there's another IND-ready program for CNTX-0290, a selective somatostatin SSTR4 agonist.

The field of pain drug R&D has been hobbled by a lengthy series of setbacks in recent years, something Pfizer experienced firsthand after Kindler jumped ship. The placebo effect scuttled many efforts, and the risk of clinical failure is ever-present. But a generation of opioids has fostered addiction, creating a big market opportunity for any company that can meet the challenge of preventing pain safely.

Neither Centrexion nor Boehringer are talking about deal terms now, but Brady confirmed that the deal structure fits neatly into what you would expect to see in any early-stage pact, complete with a relatively small upfront and a slate of milestones and royalties that pay out with R&D and commercial success.

Once in charge of one of the largest pharma companies in the world, Kindler sounded no regrets about his move from Big Pharma to carefully calibrated biotech, where he's been involved in the venture world along with other startups.

"Inevitably they get somewhat bureaucratic," says Kindler about big operators. "We have a relatively small team, started with almost nothing. We move very quickly, we're very agile," which is how they could strike a deal with Boehringer in short order.

"I get the opportunity in a way that I didn't get at a large pharma company to really get my hands on what's going on in a very direct way," he adds. That includes fundraising. The biotech--which has raised $58 million so far--is well funded for a year out, says the CEO, but he's now in the process of raising a new funding round as he starts setting the stage for more advanced research work.

- here's the release