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Who Needs a CEO? Lycera Strikes Deal with Pharma Giant Merck

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of the way it attacks autoimmune diseases including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

About 50 million Americans suffer from at least one of these autoimmune disorders, in which “T” cells that normally help us ward off bacterial and viral infections direct their assault against healthy tissues.

Until recently, T cells were divided into T1 and T2 cells based on the the cytokines (small cell-signaling protein molecules) they produce. But researchers have recently discovered a third category of T cells dubbed Th17. These particular cells produce Il-17, an inflammatory cytokine scientists believe is the source of autoimmune disorders.

“The investigation…of Th17 cells has opened up a new framework for understanding T cell differentiation,” according to a German study listed in the National Institutes of Health website. Furthermore, we now appreciate the importance of Th17 cells in… inducing tissue inflammation in autoimmune disease.”

Glick says Big Pharma companies have been primary interested in desiging drugs that target RORyt, a key protein receptor crucial to producing Il-17 cytokines found in Th17 cells. But until now, they’ve had no luck, Glick says.

Lycera says it has developed oral-based small molecules that can effectively bind to RORyt and prevent T cells from producing Il-17.

“It’s a fundamentally new approach that [strikes] at the root cause” of autoimmune diseases, Glick says. “No one else has done this before.”

Under the deal, Merck will retain worldwide marketing and commercialization rights to any resulting products. Lycera could receive millions of additional dollars if Merck meets certain global sales targets.

The deal also grants Lycera low double digit-tiered royalty payments and the option to share profits in the United States.

Given Merck’s financial support and the $36 million the company has already raised from investors, Glick says Lycera has enough money to operate for the immediate future.

“But with biotech companies, I’ve learned you never have enough capital,” Glick says.

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