Drug Research
Drug Discovery & Development

Ligand to acquire Crystal Bioscience

Published 05 October 2017

Ligand Pharmaceuticals has announced the signing of a merger agreement whereby Ligand will acquire Crystal, a leader in avian genetics and the generation of fully-human therapeutic antibodies.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ligand will pay Crystal shareholders $25 million in cash at closing, up to an additional $10.5 million of success-based milestones, and revenue sharing from existing licensees for a defined period.

Crystal is a leader in the difficult-to-address-epitope area of antibody research with its HuMab technology, which is believed to be the world’s only chicken-based human antibody platform to successfully generate human antibodies.

As part of the OmniAb® brand, HuMab technology will be called OmniChicken™. Because of the evolutionary distance between birds and mammals, chickens enable the generation of novel antibodies against targets that are not immunogenic in mammals like mice and rats, the core species of Ligand’s existing OmniAb platform.

The addition of the OmniChicken platform will be complementary to Ligand’s OmniAb technology, and further solidifies Ligand’s position as the world leader in novel, transgenic antibody discovery platforms.

Crystal’s license agreements will initially add four Shots on Goal to Ligand, bringing its fully-funded programs to more than 160. It is expected that the OmniChicken technology will be utilized by some of Ligand’s existing OmniAb partners and potential new partners.

Crystal’s current licensees include Boehringer Ingelheim, Alexo Therapeutics, Achaogen, and an undisclosed large pharmaceutical company, most of which are pursuing multiple targets. This transaction also provides Ligand with an in-house antibody discovery laboratory to service OmniChicken R&D needs through contracted service.

Rob Etches, PhD, DSc, a Crystal co-founder and distinguished geneticist, is expected to join Ligand as Vice President, Antibody Technologies, further strengthening Ligand’s R&D leadership in the field of antibody research. Ligand will continue to operate the 19-person Crystal organization based in Emeryville, CA.

“Crystal is an excellent, complementary addition to our OmniAb antibody discovery platform. The company adds a third species for fully-humanized antibody discovery for partners, four new fully-funded partnerships and projected growing annual revenue and positive cash flow to the business,” said John Higgins, Chief Executive Officer of Ligand Pharmaceuticals.

“Species diversification is very important in antibody discovery due to the expanding complexity of therapeutic targets being pursued by the industry, and given that not all species of animals will yield the same results,” he added.

“In less than two years, Ligand has assembled the world’s premier offerings of fully-human antibody discovery technologies based on number and variety of species, and the highest number of partners broadly deploying the platform. Antibody research is one of the largest areas of R&D investment by the pharma and biotech industries given the potential and medical impact for major new medicines.

Ligand is now offering prospective partners a one-stop shop with its trademarked ‘Three Species, One-License’ OmniAb partnering opportunity. Ligand will continue to operate the highly-specialized and profitable Crystal research unit out of its current labs in Northern California.”

This acquisition is projected to contribute up to $1 million of revenue and a similar level of operating expenses during the fourth quarter of 2017. For 2018, Ligand expects incremental Crystal revenues of at least $5 million and incremental EPS of at least $0.09.

Including this acquisition, Ligand now expects 2017 total revenues to be at least $134 million with the potential for an additional $9 million of contract payments. Ligand estimates that with revenue of $134 million, adjusted earnings per share would be approximately $2.93.

Crystal non-cash amortization expense estimates are expected to be determined in the near term. Amortization charges will be recognized in GAAP EPS and the non-cash charge will be excluded from adjusted EPS.

Crystal Bioscience is a privately-held company that was founded in 2008 to develop a therapeutic antibody discovery engine using chickens. Its platform relies on the large phylogenetic distance between mammals and birds to generate a diverse array of antibodies to human targets that have proven intractable in mammalian and other discovery platforms.

Crystal’s patented platform provides the ability to isolate monoclonal antibodies from immunized chickens, and can screen simultaneously for specificity and biological activity. It has led to the discovery of bioactive monoclonals directed against difficult targets, including G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and ion channels.

 Chicken antibodies often recognize both human and mouse orthologs, which can simplify early stages of drug development where rodent disease models are often used.

OmniAb includes three transgenic animal platforms for producing mono- and bispecific human therapeutic antibodies. Ligand’s OmniAb platform is the world’s leading antibody discovery platform technology featuring the highest number of unique species for drug discovery work and has more users than any other human antibody platform.

 OmniAb is positioned for partnering with the trademarked “Three species, one license” motto. OmniRat® is the industry’s first human monoclonal antibody technology based on rats. It has a complete immune system with a diverse antibody repertoire and generates antibodies with human idiotypes as effectively as wild-type animals make rat antibodies.

OmniMouse® is a transgenic mouse that complements OmniRat and expands epitope coverage. OmniFlic® is an engineered rat with a fixed light chain for development of bispecific, fully human antibodies. The three platforms use patented technology, have broad freedom to operate and deliver fully human antibodies with high affinity, specificity, expression, solubility and stability.



Source: Company Press Release