Using MIT-Harvard Technology, Ligon Discovery Speeds Up Search for New Drugs

5/4/10

Ligon Discovery has been discovered, and I could argue that I was there the moment it happened. Patrick Kleyn, co-founder and CEO of Ligon, was sitting in the back of a crowded conference for drug industry dealmakers in Harvard Square last month when a senior pharmaceutical executive on an industry panel noted Kleyn’s fledgling firm as one of the promising young life sciences companies in the Boston area. Kleyn was seated next to me, and I saw him beaming after receiving the shout-out.

There are a few ways to get discovered as a new biotech startup: exciting science, big-name founders, success in raising venture capital, or any combination of these. Ligon falls into the “exciting science” category, because its small-molecule microarray technology could revolutionize the way researchers go from identifying a potential disease protein or target to finding a drug that can home in on that target. It’s been just a year since Cambridge, MA-based Ligon spun off from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the firm is already generating some positive buzz at venues like the Boston Biotech Business Development Conference in Harvard Square last month.

Ligon might have the right technology at the right time. Genetic research has uncovered a plethora of proteins in recent years that play key roles in human diseases. Yet it can take several months or more than a year to design a test or assay that can be used to screen libraries of small molecules for ones that can bind to the newly uncovered disease proteins. Ligon’s technology is designed to greatly reduce those long turnaround times in drug discovery.

“One of the key benefits for a [pharmaceutical] company, when you talk about time to market, is the ability to go from an idea of screening certain targets to looking at structures or hits from a screen within weeks,” Kleyn says. “Whereas, a very typical turnaround time for that [process] in a large pharmaceutical company would be a year plus.”

Ligon’s technology borrows a concept from open-source software development for designing tests for drug discovery, says Kleyn, the former director of scientific planning for the Broad Institute. While open source gives programmers common codes for developing software, Ligon has a single form of chemistry that can be used to … Next Page »

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