Pfizer is to acquire Excaliard, a privately-owned company which develops drugs for the treatment of skin scarring.

Through the deal, Pfizer is getting hold of EXC 001, an antisense oligonucleotide which is in Phase II and is designed to interrupt the process of fibrosis by inhibiting expression of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF). The latter is a growth factor that can be over-expressed in damaged skin or tissue following surgery or traumatic injury and lead to disfiguring skin scarring. Currently, there are no approved products in the USA to reduce scar severity.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though Pfizer said it will make an upfront payment and contingent payments if certain milestones are achieved. However, Isis Pharmaceuticals, which has a stake in Excaliard, revealed that it will receive up to $14 million as part of the deal, including a $4.4 million upfront fee, plus royalties. Isis has granted Excaliard an exclusive worldwide license agreement for certain antisense drugs, including EXC 001.

Pfizer noted that in the USA alone, there are over 35 million surgical procedures annually and many procedures result in skin scarring. Well over 1.5 million cosmetic surgical procedures were carried out in 2009, the firm notes, adding that opportunities exist in other non-cosmetic surgical scars such as Caesarian sections (1.3 million a year in the USA), as well as trauma and burn patients.

Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, head of biotherapeutics R&D at Pfizer, said “the science behind Excaliard’s lead compound aligns well with our R&D focus on new treatments for fibrosis and tissue remodelling". He added that "we view EXC 001 as being well-positioned to potentially become a novel, transformative therapy in a space with limited available treatment options".

Gordon Foulkes, Excaliard’s chief executive, noted that the firm was formed just four years ago and "since that time, using a virtual organisation and maximum outsourcing, we were able to move from lead generation to the completion of three Phase II trials".

 Lipitor deal with specialty pharmacy

Meantime, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Pfizer is planning to sell its soon-to-be off-patent cholesterol-lowerer Lipitor (atorvastatin) at generic prices directly to patients.

The newspaper reports that Pfizer has teamed up with Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy to give Lipitor to patients who order the blockbuster directly through the latter. It notes that agreements have been reached with various health plans so that that the branded product will cost the same as a generic version. Lipitor goes off-patent in the USA at the end of November.