China’s HitGen bags new drug discovery deal with Aduro

Chinese biotech HitGen, which has DNA-encoded library technology, just inked a multiyear, multitarget drug discovery deal with Aduro Biotech.

Following drug discovery collaborations with big pharma companies Merck & Co., Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, China’s HitGen just inked another multitarget deal with Aduro Biotech.

HitGen will use its DNA-encoded library (DEL) design, synthesis and screening to discover novel small-molecule leads and license them out exclusively to 2014 Fierce 15 company Aduro for an undisclosed amount.

Though neither company disclosed the indications or disorders on which the pair will seek to work, given Aduro’s track record in developing immunotherapies, oncology or autoimmune diseases will likely be the focus of this collaboration.

Headquartered in Chengdu, China, the biotech was founded by current Chairman and CEO Jin Li, Ph.D., in 2012. Before that, Li spent over a decade with AstraZeneca, having held director positions in global compound sciences and computational sciences. HitGen opened a subsidiary in Houston in 2016.

The DEL technology is the key to HitGen’s offerings. During the synthesis process, novel chemical structures are selected as scaffolds and are linked to building blocks through split-and-pool, a technique that could yield huge collections of molecules. Then, each compound is encoded with a given sequence of DNA. Using this process, HitGen says it can produce libraries containing millions to billions of compounds within three months.

DELs are then screened against protein targets. Once compounds with strong binding to the target are picked out, scientists could reversely decipher the compounds’ structures using high-throughput DNA sequencing and get lead compounds after optimization. HitGen says on its website that the entire DEL screening can usually be done within three months, and it costs less per biological target for screening. With the technology, HitGen has built DELs with all together more than 85 billion compounds.

The Aduro deal marks the latest of several research pacts HitGen has formed with prominent foreign biopharma companies and research institutes. In September 2016, it reached an agreement with Janssen Biotech to discover new therapies in oncology and metabolics. Two exclusive screening and licensing deals with Merck and Pfizer respectively followed in March and April. Another partnership formed in April with the Scripps Research Institute and its affiliate, the California Institute for Biomedical Research, will initially focus on oncology, regenerative medicine and virology.