VASTox, a chemical genomics company based in Oxford, UK, announced this week that it has completed the simultaneous acquisition of drug-discovery company DanioLabs and Dextra Laboratories, a carbohydrate chemical-services company.
VASTox picked up DanioLabs for £15 million ($29.5 million) in cash and shares, and Dextra for £1.5 million in shares. Both acquisitions are expected to close on March 28 [see sidebar].
VASTox (Value Added Screening Technologies Oxford) offers a range of drug-discovery services, including medicinal chemistry and carbohydrate chemistry, but has to date specialized in high-volume, high-content screening in zebrafish and fruit flies.
According to VASTox CEO Steve Lee, the company sought to acquire DanioLabs, which also markets a zebrafish screening platform, because its approach to zebrafish screening is “different” and “highly complementary.”
DanioLabs, based in Cambridge, UK, “has looked at zebrafish very much like mice, and has invested millions in disease models,” while VASTox has “focused on protocols for testing drugs in 96-well plates,” Lee said.
DanioLabs also differs from VASTox in its concentration on automation, Lee said. “They have ways of looking at zebrafish without the use of people, such as using robots and microscopes instead,” he said. “We, on the other hand, have not done that. We have looked at things such as disease pathways, and the genes that cause disease and are conserved between zebrafish, higher animals, and man.“
DanioLabs CEO Anthony Sedgwick and Keith Churchman, CFO, will step down immediately, VASTox said. VASTox will retain the company’s research facility in Cambridge, and DanioLabs’ 37 remaining employees will join VASTox’s 70 employees.
“Zebrafish and/or carbohydrate chemistry are valuable technologies because they address problems facing the big pharmaceutical companies now — namely, that they are not producing enough drugs,” said Lee.
“The opportunities are growing exponentially, because the pharmaceutical companies are rapidly buying up these technologies,” Lee said. “Eighteen months ago, we were doing £10,000 deals; now, we are doing £400,000 deals; in one or two years, we should be doing multimillion-pound deals.”
“Vastox’s acquisition of DanioLabs indicates the significant value of zebrafish chemical genomics and the clinical candidates generated by the zebrafish platform,” he said. “Zebrafish are clearly not just another model organism.”
In the short term, Lee said, ”these acquisitions will expand our drug-discovery pipeline and add to our revenue stream.”
"Opportunities are growing exponentially, because pharmaceutical companies are rapidly buying up technologies, such as zebrafish screening."
Longer-term plans include advancing its in-house discovery programs and signing more service agreements with large pharmaceutical companies.
VASTox already had in-house drug-discovery programs in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, multi-drug-resistant infection, and osteoarthritis. The acquisition of DanioLabs gave the firm additional programs in Parkinson’s disease, and several neurological disorders including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and cognitive disorders.
Lee said that the company expects to begin phase 2 trials for its Parkinson’s disease program and to release phase 1 data from its spinal muscular atrophy program later this year.
“We also hope to announce that we have our GMP facilities up and running, perhaps by June,” Lee said. “So it will be a very busy few months.”