CHENGDU, China—HitGen Ltd., a privately held biotech company focused on technology for effective and efficient small-molecule drug discovery and development, has made three notable news announcements since March 22, sealing deals with The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI)—and its affiliate, the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr)—as well as Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada).
HitGen’s technology platform is centered on the design, synthesis and interrogation of multibillion-component libraries of DNA-encoded small molecules. The company notes that its DNA-encoded libraries (DELs) current contain more than 25 billion diverse drug‐like small molecules and “is assembled with robust chemistries, and is populated with many hundreds of distinct chemical scaffolds. These libraries have been validated by yielding tractable lead series against targets from known and novel protein classes.”
The most recent news came April 24, with regard to TSRI and Calibr, with word of a collaboration to discover and develop potential new therapies in areas of unmet clinical need, with an initial focus in oncology, regenerative medicine and virology.
HitGen’s platform will be deployed to identify new small-molecule leads for therapeutic targets identified by the collaboration. Leaders in basic and translational research at TSRI and Calibr will provide target materials and relevant know‐how to prosecute drug targets of interest. The parties will contribute in‐kind to the discovery efforts and anticipate progressing any drug candidates that emerge to clinical proof‐of‐concept studies.
“HitGen’s commitment to developing and deploying DEL technology is a great fit for our new model for translational research in the nonprofit sector,” commented Peter Schultz, president and professor of chemistry at TSRI, as well as CEO of Calibr.
“We are excited to collaborate with Prof. Schultz and his colleagues at TSRI‐Calibr as a strategic partner for these discovery efforts, and we acknowledge the fundamental contributions of TSRI professors Sydney Brenner and Richard Lerner in initiating the field of DNA‐encoded chemistry technology” said Dr. Jin Li, chairman and CEO of HitGen. He added that “HitGen continues to grow as a world‐class drug discovery organization. We are keenly focused on engaging with world‐leading academic institutions to provide new solutions for unmet medical need.”
About a week before the TSRI-Calibr announcement, HitGen noted that it had entered into a multiyear research collaboration and license agreement with Pfizer Inc. to build and screen novel DELs in order to potentially discover unique small-molecule leads to be used in drug development, though the companies aren’t yet sharing publicly what the specific therapeutic areas might be, just that it will involve multiple proprietary DELs for Pfizer’s drug discovery efforts and that, in addition, HitGen will screen their own DELs against a selected number of Pfizer’s therapeutic targets.
Novel lead compounds from the HitGen DELs will be licensed exclusively to Pfizer for further research and development. Pfizer will fund the research at HitGen.
“We will work closely with Pfizer scientists to build proprietary DELs to support the discovery of a generation of new medicines to address unmet medical needs. This collaboration reflects HitGen’s capabilities, expertise, and flexibility to develop business models to meet the needs of our collaboration partners,” said Li.
On the Pfizer side, the company’s senior vice president and head of medicinal services, Dr. Tony Wood, added: “We look forward to identifying new opportunities that will further expand our ability to identify new leads for multiple target families. The generation of proprietary DELs will leverage Pfizer’s parallel medicinal chemistry expertise and potentially accelerate the path of new medicines from idea to the clinic.”
And lastly, a little after the midway point of March, HitGen announced a collaboration deal with Merck to discover novel chemical leads for multiple therapeutic targets of interest to the company—again, as with Merck, details on therapeutic areas of interest were not shared. Novel leads identified on HitGen’s platform will be licensed exclusively to Merck and, under the terms of the agreement, HitGen will receive an upfront payment and be eligible for milestone payments.
“Agreements like this that facilitate the application of potentially enabling new platform technologies are a key element of our collaboration strategy,” said Dr. Richard Tillyer, senior vice president of MSD Global Chemistry. “We look forward to working with scientists at HitGen to apply this platform towards the discovery of novel therapeutic candidates.”