Ligand snags Roche-partnered drug in Icagen buyout

People shaking hands across a desk that has computer and papers on it
Pfizer bought Icagen for $56 million in 2011, only to spin the ion channel platform out. (rawpixel/Pixabay)

Ligand Pharmaceuticals has acquired a Roche-partnered program from Icagen. The deal comes a little more than one year after Roche and Icagen entered into a drug discovery pact aimed at neurological disorders.

Roche committed to up to $274 million in development and commercial milestones at the time of the December 2018 deal. In return, Icagen agreed to apply its platform to the discovery and early stage preclinical development of ion channel modulators. The alliance tasks Icagen with taking a drug up to lead optimization, at which point Roche will take over development. 

Icagen has access to $9 million in research funding to support the work and is yet to receive any of the milestones. Yet, Icagen has agreed to sell the program to Ligand as part of a deal covering the core assets of its operation in North Carolina.


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Ligand is paying $15 million in cash upfront for the assets and committing to up to $25 million more in payments tied to “certain revenue achievements.” In return, Ligand is acquiring the Roche pact and a separate partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The cystic fibrosis partnership features $11 million in research funding and up to $59 million in outstanding milestones.

With Icagen in line to generate income from services and license and milestone fees in the near term, Ligand thinks the deal will be immediately accretive to revenues and earnings. Ligand expects Icagen to add $7 million to revenue in 2020 and a further $12 million the following year. 

The deal also features assets that could generate income over the longer term, notably ion channel technologies that underpin Icagen’s alliances and six unpartnered programs. The unpartnered programs target indications including pain, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

Some of the assets and technologies have passed through several hands. Pfizer bought Icagen for $56 million in 2011, only to spin the ion channel platform back out again four years later to contract service provider XRpro Sciences.  

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