Fledgling Ziarco grabs a $33M transatlantic round for PhII atopic dermatitis drug

Mike Yeadon

Two years after Michael Yeadon and a close-knit group of Pfizer investigators managed to grab some of the pharma giant's ($PFE) anti-inflammatory assets on the way out the door at Sandwich, they've drummed up a $33 million B round for their biotech from some U.S. and European investors intrigued by the potential of its pipeline. And now they're set to launch a midstage clinical program to help determine the value of what they took with them when launching Ziarco.

The lead program which attracted the new investors--ZPL-389, an oral histamine H4 receptor antagonist--has completed a Phase I in healthy volunteers and is now ready for a Phase II for atopic dermatitis set to launch in the first half of next year, says CEO Yeadon. The Phase II study, he added, should be completed a year after investigators begin dosing. And ZPL-521 is coming up from behind for psoriasis, with plans to get it into the clinic in 2016.

Yeadon had been in charge of Pfizer's allergy and respiratory research unit at Sandwich when the pharma giant decided to dramatically downsize its U.K. operation. Then Yeadon's group negotiated a deal for four of the company's de-prioritized assets, relying on their "Swiss army knife" qualities that could be used to target a variety of conditions. That versatility allowed the group to quickly pivot away from lung diseases and toward skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Canterbury, U.K.-based Ziarco adopted a business model that is the polar opposite of a giant like Pfizer, which is an investor and partner. Yeadon's lean-and-mean team is four people strong, including ex-Pfizer researchers Steve Liu and Lynn Purkins, and now is likely to double to 8 in the next few months. New money also brings with it new board members.

New Enterprise Associates and Lundbeckfond Ventures co-led the round with new investor Amgen Ventures joining the existing investors BVF Partners and Pfizer Venture Investments. Ed Mathers, a Washington, DC-based partner at NEA and MedImmune veteran, has joined Ziarco's board of directors as chairman while Johan Kördel, senior partner at Lundbeckfond Ventures, has also joined the board.

New Enterprise Associates was also behind Adaptimmune's big round recently, highlighting a growing presence of U.S.-based venture groups in the U.K.

"Two-and-a-half years ago, when we tried to find financing in the U.S., not many were that interested," says Yeadon. "Today, with the Series B, it's a completely different story." As the multinationals like Pfizer downsized in the U.K., he adds, there were a lot of highly experienced, credible investigators making the rounds at the same time promising assets were looking for a new home. That's helped change things for the better.