PPD's X-Chem flips some potential drugs to partner Navitor

X-Chem, PPD's in-house biotech company, struck a deal with pioneering startup Navitor Pharmaceuticals, outlicensing some early-stage compounds discovered with its proprietary technology.

Navitor is exercising its option to bring in some small-molecule candidates identified with X-Chem's screening system, which makes use of a library of more than 100 billion molecules. Each of those molecules is tethered to a DNA tag that essentially logs its history, according to the company, allowing investigators to peer in on a host of chemical reactions and ferret out the best candidate.

The two first linked up last year, with Navitor in search of potential therapies that tinker with mTORC1, a protein complex that plays a role in cellular metabolism and growth. X-Chem received an undisclosed payment at the start of the collaboration, and the company is in line for more down the road if the candidates come through on a series of milestones.

Navitor, a 2014 FierceBiotech Fierce 15 honoree, launched last year with a $23.5 million A round and a plan to home in on mTORC1. According to the company, regulating the target can force cells to either gorge themselves or starve to death, and poorly regulated mTORC1 is found in metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity; neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer's disease; inflammatory afflictions like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis; and a host of rare genetic ailments, Navitor says.

For X-Chem, the deal comes on the heels of tie-ups with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Alexion ($ALXN), Roche ($RHHBY), AstraZeneca ($AZN), Pfizer ($PFE) and Bayer, each focused on the company's discovery prowess.

PPD, long a majority owner, acquired the entirety of X-Chem in September. The CRO first bought a controlling interest in the Waltham, MA-headquartered X-Chem in 2010, a deal that gave it until the fall to decide whether to pick up the rest. The buyout resulted in no changes to day-to-day business at X-Chem, PPD said, and the biotech retained its entire staff and leadership.

"Over the past several years, X-Chem has discovered and licensed multiple small molecule drug discovery programs to leading pharmaceutical companies under ongoing partnerships," X-Chem Chief Business Officer Diala Ezzeddine said in a statement. "The collaboration with Navitor represents a new type of partnership adapted to the specific business needs of early-stage biotechnology companies."

- read the statement