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Icagen Boosts Drug Discovery Capabilities With Sanofi Site Purchase

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

Icagen is expanding its capabilities to search for new drugs by bolting on a Sanofi research site in Arizona and gaining access to the lab’s library of compounds.

Durham, NC-based Icagen says it has a definitive agreement to acquire the Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) research site in Oro Valley, AZ. The companies disclosed no financial terms for the deal, which they say will close “in the near future.”

The drug discovery work at Icagen focuses on compounds that affect ion channels, the protein membranes that control the movement of ions, such as sodium and potassium, through cells. Icagen President and CEO Richard Cunningham (pictured above) said in a prepared statement that the deal enhances his company’s specialized drug discovery services. Services at the Sanofi site include ultra high throughput screening, compound management, and computational chemistry. Icagen plans to keep most of the Sanofi scientists working at the Oro Valley facility.

Also key to the deal is a proprietary library of compounds that the Arizona research site has built up over the years. The Sanofi facility, which has been operational since 1990, has roots as a startup spun out of the University of Arizona. Under the agreement with Sanofi, Icagen will manage this compound library and make it accessible to companies it partners with on drug discovery.

Icagen’s expertise in ion channel drug discovery, and its own progress on a pain drug candidate targeting sodium ion channels, led to its 2011 acquisition by Pfizer (NYSE: PFE). Nearly a year ago, then Cambridge, MA-based XRpro Sciences bought some of the former Icagen assets from Pfizer, marrying the ion channel expertise with its own technology to measure the chemical composition of drugs.

Pfizer kept the former Icagen’s pain drug, but XRpro’s acquisition of the ion channel expertise created a new company with a different strategy. Rather than discovering and developing its own drugs, XRpro partnered with biotech and pharma companies, bringing its ion channel knowledge to their drug discovery efforts. Late last year, XRpro relocated to Durham and changed its name to Icagen.