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Lion Strikes Deal with MDL to Further Bolster Cheminformatics Capabilities

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With its recently announced MDL Information Systems licensing deal, Lion Bioscience has put into place what it considers an important piece of its total informatics integration plan.

“MDL is a leading stand-alone cheminformatics company. Building up without MDL is like building a car without using wheels,” said Friedrich von Bohlen, CEO of Lion.

The three-year deal allows Lion to license MDL chemistry-based software and, said von Bohlen, allows Lion to commercialize anything built on top of MDL tools. As part of the agreement, San Leandro, Calif.-based MDL was named the exclusive global reseller of Lion’s iDEA product line.

The deal is the third agreement Lion has made recently in a bid to bring a major cheminformatics component into its offerings. In October, Lion struck a deal with cheminformatics veteran Tripos to link Lion’s SRS platform with Tripos’ enterprise-wide cheminformatics portal and application, and at the end of the year Lion acquired San Diego-based Trega Biosciences for its ADME, toxicology, and cheminformatics tools.

“Talking about integration is not a good idea if you don’t know how to integrate,” said von Bohlen. “We didn’t have chemistry expertise. We first worked up bioinformatics. [Then] we announced Tripos. The goal is to link chemical space with biological space. The difficulty is biological data is functionally oriented. Chemistry is structurally oriented. It’s easy to say ëlets link biology with chemistry,’ but it’s difficult to do.”

Sources close to the MDL deal said that it was a fall-back position: Lion had wanted to acquire the company, but MDL’s parent, Elsevier Science, would not sell.

“MDL holdings are pretty significant in terms of cheminformatics,” said Rudy Potenzone, CEO of Lion US and a former senior vice president at MDL. “Big pharma uses MDL software for handling of internal data. These are the keys of the kingdom for a lot of these companies.”

Lion is using its licensed and acquired cheminformatics capabilities to not only extend its products, but also to beef up its in-house drug discovery capabilities, which it considers a test kitchen for its products and a showcase for its consulting capabilities.

The 16 month-old drug discovery enterprise focuses on finding drugable targets for the nuclear receptor family, and has already yielded a candidate, according to von Bohlen, who made it a point to say that any targets would be licensed rather than further developed in-house.

“We don’t want to sell drugs,” said von Bohlen. “It is not our intention to do drug discovery as a main business; then we would be competing with our partners. But we need a showcase, so our partners don’t say, ‘We hear you but don’t see you.’”

— KH

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