Flexion enters into agreements with four pharma majors

Flexion Therapeutics (Flexion) has signed agreements with four major pharmaceutical partners, acquir

The agreements with AstraZeneca, Merck Serono (a division of Merck KGaA, Germany) and one other partner establish for Flexion, a mature pipeline of clinically enabled drug candidates focused on inflammatory diseases. An investment from Pfizer's Venture Capital group closed Flexion's Series A financing round at $42m.

As per the in-licensing deals, Flexion has acquired a clinically enabled compound from AstraZeneca, a compound from Merck Serono and two other clinical compounds from an undisclosed pharmaceutical partner. The potential drugs will be developed for a range of inflammatory conditions, including the intra-articular treatment of osteoarthritis, and for tinnitus.

Financial terms were not disclosed but the agreements include milestone payments and royalties, if the compounds are successful.

Mike Clayman, chief executive officer of Flexion Therapeutics, said: "To win the confidence of four major pharmaceutical companies and be able to partner on such high-quality assets is a real tribute to our team. We were able to review over 100 compounds from numerous potential partners before selecting these high-value specialty programs, each of which has increased probability of success at both proof of concept and Phase 3."

Barbara Dalton, vice president of worldwide business development for venture capital and established products at Pfizer, said: "We were impressed from the start by Flexion's smart approach to drug development. In an age of ever increasing costs, it's refreshing to find a management team with a proven track record of driving down development costs and speeding the delivery of defining data."

Rodger McMillan, vice president of respiratory & inflammation research area at AstraZeneca, said: "Our internal R&D is complemented by external collaborations like this one with Flexion designed to realize the value of our innovative portfolio. In Flexion, we recognised a company that could efficiently progress compounds to make a difference for patients."

Vincent Aurentz, executive vice president of portfolio development at Merck Serono, said: "A willingness to fully explore the potential of highly innovative products in collaborative structures is critical for our strategy. The deep development expertise of Flexion makes them an ideal partner for us."

Pfizer Venture Investments joins a strong syndicate of investors in backing Flexion. In October last year, Flexion announced an initial Series A funding round of $33m from established venture capital firms, Versant Ventures, 5AM and Sofinnova Partners.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.