Emerging Drug Developer: Ligand Pharmaceuticals

Ligand paints an optimistic picture for 2009

Ligand Pharmaceuticals turned up at BIO's annual investor confab in New York this morning with some news to report.

The developer, which has inked a string of deals with some of the world's top pharma companies, earned a million-dollar milestone payment from Schering-Plough for the progress being made in an Alzheimer's program--an asset that was acquired with Ligand's recent buyout of Pharmacopeia.

But there's nothing new about making news at Ligand. Over the past 75 days Ligand reported an approval for Promacta (for thrombocytopenia); a full response letter was issued by the FDA for Fablyn, developed by Pfizer with technology from Ligand; there was a licensing deal with GlaxoSmithKline; positive mid-stage data came in on its hypertension therapy; a new screening deal was forged with Trevena and Ligand closed the deal to buy Pharmacopeia--which in turn helped generate some of the recent headlines.

"We have a company with great assets," says Ligand's upbeat CEO, John Higgins. And most of them have been partnered with companies like Glaxo, Pfizer, Schering-Plough, Wyeth, Bristol-Myers Squibb and King Pharmaceuticals. Out of 25 programs spelled out in its pipeline illustration, all but four are partnered.

Despite the tsunami of bad tidings that has swept over the biotech industry in recent months, Higgins is sticking with an optimistic forecast for 2009.

"We think this is going to be a momentous year for Ligand," says an enthusiastic Higgins. And in the years to come, he added, Ligand has established development timelines for a string of programs that could reach approval in or around 2013.

One of the reasons why Higgins can be optimistic is the steady stream of money the developer can rely on from its partners. In addition to a potential half billion dollars in prospective milestones, Ligand also has research deals with Schering-Plough and Wyeth that bring in millions of dollars in annual research income. Higgins is hopeful that Promacta will be a winner. And the CEO touted the company's discovery work for boosting platelet counts. One of its programs, LGD-4665, is in an ongoing Phase II trial and has turned in evidence of significantly boosting platelet counts.

"The anemia category is huge," says the CEO. "Platelets are at the forefront of hematologists' minds."

Higgins is equally upbeat about DARA, a dual-acting receptor antagonist that blocks the AT1 and ETa receptors. Ligand acquired DARA when it closed on Pharmacopeia at the end of last year.

Ligand recently released positive Phase IIb data on DARA that turned in some impressive numbers for treating hypertensive patients. While only nine percent of the placebo arm in the trial achieved the targeted blood pressure goal in the trial, 36 percent of the low-dose DARA group hit the mark and 61.5 percent of the high-dose group achieved the desired blood pressure goal.

Even better, from Ligand's perspective, is that the program is one of the few that the company doesn't have a partner for. That's something that Higgins and his team of executives plans to remedy as soon as possible. As Higgins noted this morning, Ligand is out to partner its assets at "the earliest inflection point possible."

To complete the deal for Pharmacopeia, Ligand issued about 18 million shares of Ligand common stock to Pharmacopeia stockholders along with $9.3 million in cash. Pharmacopeia shareholders also received a contingent value right that entitles them to an aggregate cash payment of $15 million under certain circumstances. And in a short period of time, Ligand has already managed to gin some revenue off of the deal.

If Higgins is right, there will be more such announcements in the years ahead.

Emerging Drug Developer: Ligand Pharmaceuticals

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