Ligand buys its way into partnership with Roche, CF Foundation — plus some ion channel tech once owned by Pfizer
Ligand Pharma is once again buying its way into collaborations with some high-profile partners, feeding eight more drug discovery programs into its pipeline at a bargain price.
Its latest acquisition target is the core assets of Icagen, a neuroscience and rare disease-focused player headquartered in Durham, North Carolina. For $15 million upfront, Ligand is bagging one neurological program partnered with Roche, a cystic fibrosis project backed by the CF Foundation, as well as six wholly-owned assets.
Additional milestones and royalty earnouts will cap at $25 million.
“Icagen has built deep expertise focused on ion channels and transporters to support target identification and evaluation, and has an established track record in ion channel drug discovery from screening to lead optimization,” Ligand CEO John Higgins said in a statement. “We expect these capabilities will be synergistic across multiple technology platforms at Ligand, particularly with Vernalis and in novel OmniAb antibody discovery targeting ion channels and transporters.
Vernalis was beat up by back-to-back FDA rejections when Ligand came to its rescue in August 2018, paying $43 million to get their hands on eight partnered programs and an operation in the UK.
Inking deals with companies skilled in later-stage drug development with the promise of royalties are core to Ligand’s business strategy — one that short sellers have criticized as risky if they find the wrong partners.
Investors didn’t appear impressed by Ligand’s choice, sending shares $LGND down 1.64% to $94.76.
Icagen, afterall, took a long and convoluted journey to this point. Having started out in 1992 and gone public in 2005, it sold itself to Pfizer in 2011 only to be reacquired and relaunched in 2015.
San Diego-based Ligand said it expects the deal to close in April, at which point it can push ahead with the preclinical programs at full speed.