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Ligand Cuts Another Deal With GlaxoSmithKline

San Diego-based Ligand Pharmaceuticals has formed another sizable partnership with the world’s second-biggest drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline. Today, Ligand (NASDAQ: LGND) said it granted an exclusive, worldwide license to Glaxo to develop a drug for thrombocytopenia, a disease in which people lack enough platelet cells in the blood to form clots.

Under the deal, Glaxo will pay $5 million upfront, and as much as $158 million in milestone payments contingent on future success in development or commercializing a drug called LGD-4665. Glaxo will eventually pay Ligand a 16 percent royalty on sales if this drug ever becomes a marketable product. Glaxo will pay all future development costs.

This deal comes a little over a week after Ligand announced at the American Society of Hematology meeting that its drug has been shown safe in clinical trials of 175 patients and is highly potent at boosting platelets. It worked in a once-daily, and a once-weekly form, offering the potential for added convenience. The market of patients for such a drug, however, isn’t thought to be very big. Platelet deficiency can be caused by cancer chemotherapy drugs, liver diseases like hepatitis C, and a rare autoimmune reaction called ITP. A lack of platelets, which can cause bruising, nosebleeds, and severe bleeding in some cases, is found in as many as one in 10 hospitalized patients, Ligand said.

“This license agreement is a validation of our program by a world leading pharmaceutical company with clear development success in this field, and permits Ligand to prioritize its development expenses on other promising programs going forward,” said John Higgins, Ligand’s CEO, in a statement.

This also isn’t the first sign of Ligand and Glaxo’s mutual interest in platelets. Glaxo announced that another drug it licensed from Ligand, called eltrombopag (Promacta), was able to sustain platelet counts and decrease bleeding over six months, compared with a placebo. Glaxo, which got FDA approval for this drug last month, is vying to make this drug a competitor with Amgen’s romiplostim (Nplate), which won FDA approval three months earlier. The Amgen drug is an injectable, and the Glaxo version is in pill form.