Levicept emerges from Pfizer's R&D ashes with $20M and a new pain drug

Pfizer's ($PFE) 2011 move to close a sprawling R&D campus in Sandwich, U.K., put more than 2,000 researchers out of work and brought an abrupt end to scores of development projects. But one of those investigators, Simon Westbrook, never lost faith in a protein he discovered at the site, buying the asset from his former employer and founding a company of his own to take it forward.

Now, three years later, Westbrook's Levicept has put together about $20 million in venture and grant funding to follow through on the promise of that protein, beating a path to the clinic with hopes of treating chronic pain.

To pay its way, Levicept has closed a £10 million ($16.1 million) A round from Advent Life Sciences, Gilde Healthcare and Index Ventures, the latter of which provided the biotech with its seed funding back in 2012. On top of that, the biotech received a £2.4 million ($3.9 million) grant from Innovate U.K., a government-sponsored outfit that invests in technology startups.

Levicept's sole candidate is LEVI-04, a biological therapeutic that targets the body's neurotrophin pathway to deliver pain relief without interrupting the cartilage and bone repair processes. The treatment, a p75 neurotrophin receptor fusion protein (p75NTR-Fc), would be injected once a month to combat the effects of osteoarthritis and chronic pain, according to the company.

The biotech's new funding will take LEVI-04 through early lab work and into a proof-of-concept human trial in osteoarthritis patients, Levicept said, giving Westbrook a chance to demonstrate that he was right to rescue the program in the first place.

"The ongoing support from our existing investor and new involvement from investors with deep experience in the life sciences is testament to the exciting preclinical data already obtained with p75NTR-Fc," Westbrook said in a statement. "LEVI-04 has shown the potential to provide a truly differentiated treatment for patients with osteoarthritis in a clinically precedented pathway."

- read the statement

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated Levicept's total funds raised. We regret the error.