Biotech Startup Formed by 4 Ex-Pfizer Employees Inks Deal With Former Employer


Rhode Island-based MindImmune Therapeutics forged a research agreement with pharma giant Pfizer to develop treatments for a number of central nervous system disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The companies will collaborate on research to study a previously unrecognized role for peripheral immune cells in the pathology of central nervous system disorders, MindImmune said in a statement. The companies are looking at the pathologic process known as neuroinflammation as part of the treatment process.

“Reducing neuroinflammation heralds significant breakthroughs in the treatment of brain disease, much as targeting immune activity is revolutionizing the treatment of cancers,” MindImmune Chief Executive Officer Stevin Zorn said in a statement.

Privately-held MindImmune announced the partnership on Monday. Four members of its leadership team, including the chief executive officer and chief science officer, were formerly with Pfizer. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The companies also did not disclose potential research targets. In a brief statement, the company said advances in human genetics have “demonstrated that immune system dysfunction is a causative factor in brain disease.”

On its website, MindImmune said its research targets include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, pain and psychiatric disorders. The company said the central nervous system and the immune system are intimately integrated, which means “immune system dysfunction is a critical, often causative, factor in brain dysfunction.”

Zorn, who worked with Pfizer Global Research and Development for nearly 20 years before MindImmune, said the deal with Pfizer has the potential to identify “new avenues of attack” on disorders and diseases that have “proven intractable to established paradigms in drug discovery research.” Zorn said the support of Pfizer will help enable new therapies that could protect the brain from disease-based injuries through its immune cell platform.

Earlier this month, Pfizer announced that it was terminating research and development into new neuroscience development, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. As part of that announcement, the company said it was cutting 300 jobs. While the pharma giant was cutting its own R&D, the company said it was launching a new fund to invest in neuroscience research. It is unknown if the deal with MindImmune is part of that new funding program.

In an interview with the Providence Journal, Zorn explained why peripheral immune cells are now believed to be effective treatments. At one time it was thought those cells could not pass through the blood-brain barrier, but Zorn told the Journal that scientists now know those peripheral immune cells are not only capable of, but do send signals that help the brain. Zorn said the researchers now have to begin to understand how those immune cells can fight brain disease without going too far and end up damaging the brain.

While the terms of the agreement with Pfizer were not disclosed in August 2017, the company closed on $500,000 in funding from the Slater Technology Fund. MindImmune launched in 2016 and is based at the University of Rhode Island. In addition to its partnership with Pfizer, MindImmune also has a close relationship with the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience.

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