HitGen to acquire Vernalis, a leader in structure-based drug discovery

HitGen entered into a definitive agreement with Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc to acquire Vernalis (R&D) Limited, Cambridge, UK-based world leaders in fragment and structure-based drug discovery research. The acquisition is for the entire issued share capital of Vernalis (R&D) Limited, for $25M in cash. The closing of this transaction is subject to customary conditions and approvals, expected to complete before the end of 2020.

Vernalis combines excellence in protein science and structure determination, fragment screening and biophysics with medicinal chemistry leadership to enable novel drug discovery against highly challenging targets. They are a 80-person experienced research team, working out of fully equipped laboratories in Granta Park, Cambridge.

Strong synergies between HitGen’s industry-leading DNA-encoded chemical libraries (DEL) platform and Vernalis’ deep expertise in fragment and structure-based approaches and medicinal chemistry will offer a full suite of early discovery capabilities for both internal programs and external collaborations. Vernalis has a robust record in achieving out-licencing of multiple drug discovery projects, with progression to clinical stages. Building upon existing platforms and proprietary technologies, this partnership promises exciting opportunities in advancing the next generation of DEL and its applications.

Coupling HitGen DELs containing over 500 billion small molecules, and a dedicated 100-person internal programs resource, with Vernalis’ extensive experience in progressing projects from concept to clinic, will empower joint discovery efforts against hard-to-drug targets, to develop innovative therapeutics of the future. It is envisaged that close collaboration between the teams and pioneering technologies can deliver meaningful value on a faster timescale to the combined NCE portfolio, available for licensing to partners.

Through this acquisition, HitGen will join the dynamic Cambridge biopharma cluster, bringing a wealth of business development, academic, and non-profit partnership opportunities, alongside serving as a platform for further investment and expansion in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Vernalis will continue to operate in Cambridge under the current management team, committed to maintaining and growing its impressive collection of collaborations with partners which currently include Asahi Kasei Pharma, Lundbeck, Servier and PhoreMost.

Dr Jin Li, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of HitGen commented: I have long been impressed by the achievement, experience, and stability of the Vernalis team. This strategic acquisition represents HitGen’s continuing investment at the frontier of innovative drug discovery; establishing a more effective technology platform to address unmet clinical needs by developing better, faster, and smarter medicines. This passion is shared by Vernalis’ dedicated scientists, and I look forward to seeing HitGen and Vernalis teams thrive on the opportunities presented to deliver more high quality output, building the HitGen Group into a leading drug discovery organisation, and ultimately delivering greater value for collaboration partners and shareholders.

Dr Mike Wood, Managing Director of Vernalis (R&D) concluded: Vernalis are looking forward to our new drug discovery relationship with HitGen and to continuing and expanding our independent collaborations. We share the drive to deliver innovative medicines that are effective against unmet clinical needs. We are passionate about the quality of our science and see many opportunities to combine our technologies with HitGen’s to improve the drug discovery process.

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