Swiss-based Debiopharm Group™ said today it will join the life sciences consulting firm Alacrita in a new alliance to pursue in-licensing opportunities, with companies in Massachusetts for new drugs targeting oncological, autoimmune, infectious, and metabolic diseases.

The companies said they will seek preclinical assets against targets that represent first-in-class opportunities. Alacrita professionals will work with Debiopharm’s in-house scouting team in searching for assets, which could be small molecules, antibody or peptide-based product candidates.

Debiopharm’s alliance with Alacrita comes four years after launching a pair of collaborations with Massachusetts partner companies.

Since 2009, Debiopharm has licensed heat shock protein (Hsp90) technology—including drug candidate CUDC-305, a Hsp90 inhibitor—from drug developer Curis (Lexington, MA). Last year, Debiopharm and Curis launched a Phase I/II clinical trial (NCT01714037) of the since-renamed Debio 0932, in combination with chemotherapy regimens in patients with advanced stages of non-small cell lung cancer.

Debiopharm agreed to incur all future costs related to the Hsp90 technology, including Debio 0932, with Curis receiving an up-front license fee and additional near-term payments, both undisclosed. Debiopharm also agreed to pay Curis undisclosed payments tied to clinical development and regulatory approval milestones, as well as royalties on sales of any products successfully commercialized by Debiopharm or sublicensees.

Debiopharm is also working to develop and commercialize a first-in-class, small molecule activator of adenosine monophosphate activated protein kinase (AMPK) for type 2 diabetes, under an exclusive license agreement with Mercury Therapeutics (Woburn, MA).

Debiopharm agreed to pay Mercury undisclosed amounts for continued R&D support, for predefined advanced milestone payments during development of the compound, and a royalty based on net sales of commercialized product.

“In recognition of the depth and breadth of life science innovation in Massachusetts, Debiopharm sees the value of a local presence in the region and has selected Alacrita as its representative,” the companies said in a statement.

Alacrita is also identifying opportunities for elsewhere on the East Coast for Debiopharm, which focuses on developing prescription drugs for unmet medical needs.

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