- Biotechnology startup creator Flagship Pioneering is teaming up with Pfizer to develop 10 new drug candidates, with each company pledging to invest $50 million in the new effort.
- Together, Flagship and Pfizer will take stock of the technologies available to the former firm and its affiliated startups, hunting for opportunities to develop medicines aligned with Pfizer’s research priorities. Per deal terms announced Tuesday, Pfizer will fund development of selected medicines, each of which it can choose to later acquire.
- The collaboration involves Flagship’s “Pioneering Medicines” initiative, which has struck similarly structured deals in the recent past with Novo Nordisk and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Flagship struck gold with Moderna, the messenger RNA startup it formed and funded privately years before the company developed a COVID-19 vaccine. Beyond Moderna, Flagship has a portfolio of more than 40 startups, many of which boast broad drugmaking “platforms” in cutting-edge areas of scientific research./p>
The Pioneering Medicines initiative it has hatched takes a different tack to drug creation. Flagship pitches it as a way to tap into all the research those companies generate, pick out promising ideas they may not have time to develop and, potentially, advance them together with partners.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, for instance, is working with Flagship to develop single-asset companies that employ technologies from associated Flagship startups. With Novo, Flagship is selecting technologies that could be applied to treat cardiometabolic and rare diseases.
Now, Flagship is partnering with Pfizer, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine rival. Though the companies didn’t specify the diseases they intend to target, they noted Pioneering Medicines will work with Pfizer’s R&D leadership to develop up to 10 drugs.
“Flagship and Pfizer enter into this strategic alliance driven by a shared sense of urgency to develop novel medicines that make a difference for patients,” Paul Biondi, a former dealmaking executive at Bristol Myers Squibb and the president of the Pioneering Medicines initiative, said in a statement.
Under deal terms announced Tuesday, Pfizer will fund development of selected medicines, each of which it can choose to later acquire. Should any successfully make it to market, Flagship and its associated companies could receive as much as $700 million in milestone payments per program.
Ever on the edge of “patent cliffs,” big drugmakers like Pfizer routinely hunt for promising new drugs in the labs of smaller biotech companies. Large acquisitions, such as Pfizer’s pending $43 billion buyout of Seagen, are one way for the company to restock its pipeline. Another is to team up with young biotechs, as the company recently did with gene editing company Caribou Biosciences. Alliances like Pfizer and Flagship’s could be another approach.
News of the partnership comes days after Flagship hired former Bristol Myers and Celgene executive Rupert Vessey as its chief scientist.