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Ligon Discovery, Lycera Partner to Develop Drugs for Immune Disorders

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By Justin Petrone

Harvard spinout Ligon Discovery will work with pharmaceutical maker Lycera to identify first-in-class drug candidates for immune disorders, the company said last week.

Under the terms of the deal, Cambridge, Mass.-based Ligon will use its small-molecule microarray, or SMM, platform to screen protein targets that Lycera believes are critical to the development of certain immune disorders.

Financial terms of the pact were not discussed.

Founded last year to commercialize the SMM technology, Ligon has a dual business model. Internally, it uses the SMM platform to characterize drug candidates associated with its areas of interest, which include transcriptional targets in cancer. Beyond those efforts, though, Ligon is looking to partner with pharmas and biotechnology companies in drug development programs outside its area of focus. The collaboration with Lycera is such a deal, according to the company's highest official.

"While we are using the technology internally for our own purposes, we are also using our technology platform in collaborations and we are seeking to show that the platform is available for more challenging target classes such as transcription factors or protein-protein targets," Ligon CEO Patrick Kleyn told BioArray News.

"The Lycera collaboration is the first … where [a company like] Lycera provides the expertise around the target and we provide the screening tool that allows them entry into more challenging targets," he said. "It gives them a different entry point into their target and the possibility to accelerate development of any compounds that come out of that."

Gary Glick, founder and chief scientific officer of Lycera, said in a statement that the firm selected Ligon's SMM platform because it "allows us to rapidly screen any protein target irrespective of its biological function, against Ligon's and our compound collection."

Founded in 2006, Plymouth, Mich.-based Lycera is developing small-molecule immunomodulators designed to treat patients with autoimmune diseases including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosis, inflammatory bowel disease. Its drugs are also designed to treat organ-transplant rejection.

Small-molecule microarrays are manufactured by spotting unmodified compound collections at high density onto glass slides using Ligon's chemical attachment approach. The platform enables hundreds of thousands of compounds on SMMs to be rapidly screened in parallel against hundreds of protein targets, according to Lycera.

A centerpiece of the firm's technology is its so-called "promiscuous surface chemistry," which was designed to allow the attachment of chemical collections — whether synthetic, natural, bioactive, or diversity-oriented. Since no special moiety is required for attachment, Ligon's SMMs are compatible with most existing chemical collections, the firm claims.

According to Kleyn, Lycera will receive "any necessary reagents" from Lycera, including proteins or compounds they want to screen, and will carry out the screening on the SMM platform in Cambridge. The firm will then deliver the screening positives back to Lycera. Ligon does all of its array manufacturing internally.

Following the Money

Last November, Ligon raised $1 million in venture capital to launch the SMM platform (see BAN 12/1/2009). This week, Kleyn said that the company intends to close a Series A financing round later this year to continue ongoing internal drug-discovery programs, and to invest in R&D.

But in November, Kleyn said that Ligon is evaluating a third route for its platform: selling products based on the SMM technology, such as "kits that would have known chemical libraries arrayed on SMMs that could be used by biological researchers who would be interested in doing a screen."

This week, he reaffirmed that producing catalog arrays is a "definite possibility" and that Ligon is "talking to various parties" about it. "It's not something that will come out in the near term but it's still on the radar screen."

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