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much more complex than the ones we were finding 10 years ago,” Bailey said.
Here’s how the Ligon method is supposed to work: The firm’s technology involves a proprietary chemistry that quickly links libraries of drug compounds onto glass slides. Those slides are then used to screen the compounds against elusive disease targets to find potential hits. This differs substantially from previous discovery methods that worked the opposite way, building the assays around a thorough understanding of the biological disease targets’ functions, and then running tests to see which drug compounds could alter its function and qualify as a potential treatment lead. But the nuanced disease targets that many drug companies are now toiling with make building assays around them tricky.
“There are targets like chromatin regulators that, to design a target-based screen for them, you would need to understand the multifaceted functions of the target in order to be confident that the screen had any meaning,” Bailey said. “By turning the whole screening paradigm upside down, the Ligon technology allows you to do a target-based screen against that [disease target] without having a complete understanding of its function.”
While Ligon seeks collaborations with partners like Bayer as part of its commercial strategy, the company is primarily focused on applying its drug-screening technology to discover its own treatments for cancer, coagulation disorders, and bacterial infections. Yet its partnerships provide invaluable revenue to the startup as it travels down the long and expensive road to developing drugs. So far, the company has raised $1 million from Cambridge-based IncTank Ventures, where Bailey is a partner, and the CEO wants to land partnerships like the one with Bayer to limit the amount of venture capital the firm will need. (In fact, Bailey led IncTank’s initial investment in Ligon last year before he took the chief executive post in June from the founding CEO, Patrick Kleyn, who has stayed on as the firm’s president and chief scientist.)
In May, I interviewed Kleyn about the some of Ligon’s positive reviews from pharma executives and how it spun out of standout chemist Stuart Schreiber’s lab at Harvard. With this new Bayer Schering deal, the startup has justified some of that attention it got in its early days.