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Pfizer, Bain launch a startup to focus on nervous system diseases

Drug giant Pfizer Inc. will hold a 25 percent stake in the newly formed company, Cerevel Therapeutics. It will be based somewhere in the Boston area.
Drug giant Pfizer Inc. will hold a 25 percent stake in the newly formed company, Cerevel Therapeutics. It will be based somewhere in the Boston area. (Associated Press)

Not long ago, Pfizer Inc. said it was getting out of the business of developing drugs for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, but the New York-based pharmaceutical giant appears to be hedging its bets.

Pfizer and Bain Capital LP, the Boston global investment firm cofounded by Mitt Romney, plan to announce Tuesday that they are launching a biopharmaceutical startup that will work on medicines for people with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases of the central nervous system. The new firm, Cerevel Therapeutics LLC, will be located in the Boston area, but Bain officials did not say where.

Bain Capital Private Equity and Bain Capital Life Sciences have pledged $350 million to bankroll Cerevel, which has acquired from Pfizer 10 drug compounds in various stages of development. The three most advanced drugs had made it to clinical trials as potential treatments for Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and psychosis. The last experimental drug might also treat agitation in people with Alzheimer’s.

In January, Pfizer said that it was abandoning research in central nervous system disorders to focus on other areas “where our pipeline, and our scientific expertise, is strongest.” But Pfizer will own 25 percent of Cerevel, and two senior Pfizer executives will sit on the board of directors of Cerevel, along with two Bain executives.

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“We are excited that Cerevel will continue to develop the Pfizer compounds, contributing to the broad scientific understanding of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and fulfilling a responsibility to patients with these devastating diseases and their families,” said Dr. Morris Birnbaum, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer of internal medicine.

Pfizer’s recent decision to close its neuroscience discovery and early development programs had been considered the latest setback in the search for new treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The shutdowns were expected to result in the elimination of 300 jobs from three Pfizer locations — in Cambridge and Andover, and in Groton, Conn.

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Adam Koppel, managing director of Bain Life Sciences and a member of Cerevel’s new board, said Bain officials are committing $350 million, and potentially more, to work on the 10 Pfizer compounds because they believe the experimental drugs still hold promise.

“Pfizer is by no means giving up on these assets,” Koppel said. “It’s looking to create the most value in the most efficient way. The fact that Pfizer will own 25 percent of the company and will have two senior members on the board is evidence of that.”

He emphasized that the late-stage compound Cerevel has acquired to possibly treat Alzheimer’s wasn’t a potential cure for the devastating form of dementia, but a promising therapy for the agitation and aggression that can accompany it.

Chris Gordon, managing director at Bain Capital Private Equity, who also will sit on the board, said he expected the startup would have about 50 employees within six months.

The deal resembles another startup that Pfizer helped launch 13 months ago with experimental drugs it had shelved.

In September 2017, Pfizer announced the creation of SpringWorks Therapeutics, a New York firm that had obtained four drug compounds that were gathering dust on Pfizer’s shelves. SpringWorks also hoped to develop compounds of experimental drugs that other companies had scrapped.

Bain Capital Life Sciences, OrbiMed, and Pfizer were among the investors that provided $103 million for that venture.

Through the years, Bain Capital has invested in a wide range of life sciences and pharmaceutical companies around the world. They include Dicerna Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Cambridge startup seeking to develop gene-silencing drugs for rare disorders, and Replimune, a Woburn company trying to develop cancer treatments.

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Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com