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UPDATE: MediChem Signs First Protein Structure Deal

This story has been updated from a previous version.

NEW YORK, April 11 - MediChem Life Sciences of Chicago said Wednesday it had signed its first protein structure deal with Celgene’s Signal Research Division, reflecting outside interest in MediChem’s drug discovery strategy, which combines its recently acquired X-ray crystallography and informatics capabilities along with its traditional medicinal chemistry approach.

Under the terms of the deal, Celgene of Warren, NJ, will provide a kinase protein to MediChem’s Emerald BioStructures subsidiary, which will test conditions for binding Celgene’s drug lead with the target protein.

Once the small molecule compound binds with the target protein, Emerald will then crystallize the interlocking molecules.

When the crystallization process is completed, MediChem will use the Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source to gather data to solve the protein's structure, thus providing a 3-D picture of the small molecule compound bound to the target protein. Celgene said it would then be able to use the binding information to improve its drug leads.

"MediChem's structural proteomics expertise will significantly enhance our ability to optimize these drug leads and develop new classes of drugs targeting some of the most challenging CNS diseases and disorders," Alan Lewis, president of Celgene's Signal Research Division, said in a statement.

Last year, MediChem, a medicinal chemistry company, bought Emerald BioStructures, which has provided the infrastructure to support a complementary structural proteomics effort, said Michael Flavin, CEO of MediChem. In addition to having X-ray crystallography capabilities, Emerald has developed Crystal Monitor, a proprietary software that controls the company’s robotics devices and records the findings from the 10,000 crystallization experiments the company can perform daily.

“Before acquiring Emerald, we had the medicinal chemistry piece but not the high throughput crystallography and structure determination capabilities,” Flavin said. “Now we can take the 3-D structure of a protein target and modulate the drug.”

In addition, Flavin noted that the acquisition provided MediChem with an exclusive license for the automated form of the lipidic cubic phase technology, the only technology that has so far proven successful in determining the structure of a G protein-coupled receptor. 

Flavin said that the combination of medicinal chemistry and structural proteomics differentiates MediChem from other structural genomics companies, such as Syrrx and Structural Genomix. In addition, unlike the competition, MediChem does not seek to sell subscriptions to its database of protein structures. Instead, the company plans to concentrate on partnering with drug makers.

“We believe the value is in the small molecule we’re developing,” Flavin said.

Flavin said that the company was currently in talks with a number of potential biotech and pharmaceutical customers. Flavin noted that most deals typically include access fees, research fees, and milestone payments. 

Last year, MediChem raised more than $50 million in an initial public offering. Flavin said some of that money might be used to acquire companies that have access to synchrotron sources for determining X-ray images of protein structures as well as companies that could help it to develop its software tools.

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