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Ligand forms partnership in China

Ligand Pharmaceuticals has formed a development partnership with the US affiliate of Chinese company Chiva Pharmaceuticals

San Diego, California-based Ligand Pharmaceuticals, which discovers and develops drugs for a range of unmet medical needs, has formed a partnership with the US affiliate of a Chinese pharmaceutical company to develop multiple assets and technology in China and potentially worldwide.

The company, Chiva Pharmaceuticals, is being granted licences to begin development in China of Ligand's two clinical-stage HepDirect programmes, pradefovir for hepatitis B and MB01733 for hepatocellular carcinoma. Additionally, Ligand is granting Chiva a non-exclusive HepDirect technology licence for the discovery, development and worldwide commercialisation of new compounds in hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

HepDirect is a prodrug technology that delivers drugs directly to the liver and renders compounds inactive until they are cleaved by a liver-specific enzyme. Pradefovir, which is in phase II studies in the US, is a HepDirect prodrug of Gilead Sciences' Hepsera (adefovir dipivoxil). MB07133 is in phase I/II studies. The drugs are not yet partnered in the US.

The deal could be worth more than $100m to Ligand in milestones and royalties, in addition to an initial licence payment of $1m. Going forward, Ligand may receive a 10 per cent equity position in Chiva and will be granted a percentage of any sublicensing revenue from the collaboration compounds.

Chiva, which is focused on programmes to address unmet medical needs in China, is headquartered in Los Altos Hills, California, and is an affiliate of China's Hainan Kaihua Pharmaceutical. "After speaking with multiple Chinese companies about this type of alliance, we selected Chiva based on the quality of its US-trained development team," Ligand CEO John L Higgins said.

The technology at the centre of the partnership was acquired by Ligand when it bought Metabasis Therapeutics in January 2010. Ligand also has partnerships with GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.

6th January 2011

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