Lycera snags $307M anti-inflammatory discovery deal with Merck

Plymouth, MI-based Lycera has nabbed a $12 million upfront payment and promises of up to $295 million more in milestones from Merck as it puts its discovery technology to work to find new anti-inflammatory drugs. The deal is focused on new small molecules that target T-helper 17 (Th17) cells, key mediators of inflammation and a new approach to treating major autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.

"We are delighted to be working with Merck, which brings industry leading expertise in drug discovery, development and commercialization to this collaboration," said Gary Glick, Lycera founder and chief scientific officer. "This joint partnership is a significant validation of Lycera's discovery capabilities and our Th17 program, and enables us to expand the scope of our research in this promising area to expedite our discovery efforts as well as our timeline to enter the clinic."

"This is arguably one of the hottest inflammation targets out there," added Glick in an interview with FierceBiotech. Lycera is the commercial spinoff founded on Glick's research at the University of Michigan. The biotech is focused on cellular bioenergetics to target and silence diseased cells along with targeting the Th17 pathway through the inhibition of RORγt. There are currently 18 staffers at the company and Glick noted that will expand by several positions over the next couple of years as the developer advances its work. He also added that he expects to do more discovery/development deals but now has a solid financial runway in place that reaches out about three years.

Lycera's technology is built around the observation that mice with RORγt deficient T cells lack Th17 cells, which produce the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-17. And by targeting Th17, they've been able to reduce the production of IL-17 in cells and in vivo. Lycera was launched four years ago and has raised $36 million from EDF Ventures, Arch Venture, Clarus and InterWest.

- here's the Lycera press release