How 3 Laid Off Employees Turned Pfizer's Discarded Compounds Into Novartis AG Gold

Published: Mar 17, 2017

How 3 Laid Off Employees Turned Pfizer's Discarded Compounds Into Novartis Gold March 15, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SANDWICH, England – Three former Pfizer researchers saw the promise of gold in an eczema drug that was going to be sidelined. After raising private capital and mining the research, the scientists at privately-held Ziarco Group Limited have seen the promise of gold turn into reality. In December, Swiss drugmaker Novartis snapped up the company in a deal that could be worth up to than $1 billion.

Ziarco was born after Pfizer shut down an R&D program in England. Mike Yeadon, who had been with Pfizer’s Sandwich-based program for 17 years, did not want to pursue another job with big pharma after learning his job was ending. Instead, he wanted to launch his own biotech company and develop a therapeutic he had been working on at Pfizer—a drug that was most likely going to be shelved indefinitely.

In an interview with Forbes, Yeadon, formerly vice president and chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s Allergy and Respiratory Research Unit, discussed the issues of starting a company and seeking capital to develop the Pfizer drug.

“… The key was in getting Pfizer to recognize that we could not pay cash for the assets, but we were willing to grant equity in exchange for their assignment, while spinning the dream of therapeutic use in areas that, at the time, they had little interest in. Essentially, we would create upside in which they’d share and they needed to do nothing but agree to our proposition, the alternative most likely being that everything would be lost,” Yeadon told Forbes.

Yeadon wasn’t alone in his efforts. He recruited two other former Pfizer colleagues, Steve Liu and Lynn Purkins. Later, Arif Shivji joined the team. After putting his nose to the grindstone to raise capital, Yeadon’s efforts were paid off when he scored backing from BVF partners with participation from Pfizer Venture Investments. With funding secured, it was time to focus on the development of ZPL-389, a once daily oral histamine H4 receptor antagonist. In June 2016, Ziarco reported positive Phase IIa results for ZPL-389 in moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. The company said the effects on inflammation were significant and continued even after eight weeks as measured by the EASI (Eczema Area and Severity Index).

While the R&D was going well, Yeadon and his colleagues knew they needed help in taking the drug through regulatory hurdles, Forbes reported. They looked for potential partners and in December 2016 were rewarded with the Novartis offer. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, it’s been speculated that the deal is worth up to $1 billion after milestones and royalties are counted.

The Ziarco deal was announced two days after Pfizer received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its atopic dermatitis drug, EUCRISA (crisaborole) ointment 2% is a non-steroidal topical phosphodieterase-4 (PDE-4) inhibitor for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis.

As BioSpace has reported before, multiple companies are elbowing for room in the atopic dermatitis market. Later this month, the FDA is expected to rule on dupilumab, an inhibitor of IL-4 and IL-13, developed by Regeneron and Sanofi. That drug, if approved, is pegged to become a blockbuster. Analysts have predicted potential sales of $2.5 billion to $5 billion.

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