Merck, HitGen expand DNA library screening collaboration

DNA genomics precision medicine
HitGen received a three-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to discover new therapies for tuberculosis and malaria. (Pixabay)

Merck and HitGen have upsized their licensing agreement into a full-fledged, multiyear drug discovery collaboration, with plans to screen DNA-encoded libraries for new small-molecule assets.

Under the project, Chengdu, China-based HitGen will provide its technology platform to design and build multiple libraries for Merck’s own international efforts under Merck Sharp & Dohme, or MSD.

HitGen will also continue to screen its own libraries of more than 200 billion compounds against MSD’s selected therapeutic targets, the companies said in a statement. Novel compounds will be licensed exclusively to MSD for further R&D, while MSD will support HitGen’s research.


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“This expanded collaboration builds upon the strong relationship we have developed with researchers at HitGen as we apply the DEL technology across our portfolio,” said Emma Parmee, MSD’s VP of global discovery chemistry.

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HitGen’s techniques yield huge numbers of DNA-encoded molecules, with each compound screened against protein targets for strong binding properties. Researchers then reverse engineer the compounds’ structures using high-throughput sequencing.

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The company has signed several multitarget discovery partnerships with other pharma companies, including Sanofi, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Aduro Biotech and Boehringer Ingelheim, as well as collaborations with the Scripps Research Institute, the California Institute for Biomedical Research and Cancer Research U.K.

HitGen also received a three-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to discover new therapies for tuberculosis and malaria. The foundation’s scientific leaders will provide targets, as well as biologic and chemistry expertise and resources to the collaboration, HitGen said.

“HitGen continues to grow as a world-class drug discovery organization,” Founder, Chairman & CEO Jin Li said in a statement. “In addition to our collaborations with industry partners, we are keenly focused on engaging with world-leading philanthropic and academic institutions to provide new solutions for patients with unmet medical needs.”

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