CAMBRIDGE, U.K. & CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Horizon Discovery Group plc will be boosting its screening capabilities with a recently announced agreement to acquire the CombinatoRx service business—known as the combination high-throughput screening (cHTS) business—and related assets of biopharmaceutical company Zalicus Inc.
Horizon will acquire the business for £4.74 million (about $8 million), after which it will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Horizon and be renamed Horizon CombinatoRx Inc.
Following the acquisition, Horizon will further develop and support the acquired assets, says CEO Dr. Darrin Disley, which include “two fully integrated robotic screening platforms optimized for combination screening, outstanding customer contracts, the Chalice informatics platform, a highly characterized library of approximately 800 cell lines and an extensive compound and chemical probe library.” Horizon will maintain the CombinatoRx laboratory and office space in Cambridge, Mass. As for the new business’ management team, Jeb Ledell, Zalicus’ vice president of corporate operations, will serve as chief operating officer of Horizon CombinatoRx, with Horizon’s Lydia Meyer Turkson taking on the role of vice president (U.S.) of business development.
“This acquisition supports several of Horizon’s stated growth objectives,” says Disley, “including deepening of our screening capabilities, establishing a footprint in the United States, accessing exciting technologies that provide real value to our customers and acquiring businesses that are accretive and where Horizon can bring additional value. The acquisition of the assets of CombinatoRx succeeds on all of these measures, and we are very excited about the prospects for the business.”
Horizon CombinatoRx will offer access to the cHTS platform—an integrated, automated system of customized hardware and software for combination high-throughput screening in phenotypic mammalian cell-based assays—and Chalice analytics software, which allows for the screening and analysis of thousands of complementary drug combinations. When combined with Horizon’s GENESIS gene editing platform and X-MAN isogenic cell line technology, the new business will be able to offer an expansive solution in terms of drug discovery and development services.
“An emerging and important part of Horizon’s business is to provide controlled preclinical model systems through the use of isogenic cell lines, where the genetic modification of interest can be directly compared to its matched normal cell. Until now, these screens have been used to look at compounds in isolation, but by combining Horizon’s capabilities—GENESIS gene editing platform (using rAAV, CRISPR & ZFN technologies) and X-MAN isogenic cell line technology—with CombinatoRx’ high-throughput screening capabilities, Horizon now has an engine that can support and drive forward our Pharma partners’ programs, identifying synergistic or antagonistic interactions between small-molecule drugs, therapeutic antibodies or proteins that can be developed as therapeutic candidates,” says Disley.
“I am pleased that the cHTS platform will continue to be leveraged to its fullest potential under the stewardship of Horizon,” Dr. Mark H.N. Corrigan, president and CEO of Zalicus, commented in a statement regarding the closing of the transaction. “In addition, the sale of cHTS has increased our cash balance by approximately $8 million, ensuring Zalicus shareholders with at least a 17-percent ownership position in our previously announced merger with Epirus Biopharmaceuticals.”
Zalicus announced the signing of a definitive merger agreement with Epirus on April 16, under which Epirus will merge with a wholly owned Zalicus subsidiary in an all-stock transaction. Once the transaction closes, Zalicus will be renamed Epirus Biopharmaceuticals Inc. and will be led by the Epirus management team, with Amit Munshi serving as president and CEO. Zalicus’ Corrigan will step up as chairman of the combined company’s board of directors and will be joined by representatives of the boards of both the existing Epirus and Zalicus.
The percentage of the combined company to be held by Zalicus stockholders as of the closing of the merger is dependent on the level of Zalicus’ net cash at closing; current Zalicus shareholders will own roughly 17 percent of the combined company if Zalicus’ net cash is equal to or in excess of $9 million but less than $12 million at the time of closing. The transaction is expected to close this summer.