Deal also includes shares representing 35% of SuperGen common stock and up to $30 million in future cash/shares payments.

U.S. cancer drugs firm SuperGen and fragment-based drug discovery specialist Astex Therapeutics have signed a definitive merger agreement. Subject to shareholder and regulatory clearance, the deal will involve SuperGen buying the U.K. company for $25 million in cash, plus shares representing 35% of SuperGen common stock. Astex could also receive another $30 million worth of cash or shares, paid over a period of 30 months. The merged entity will be known as Astex Pharmaceuticals.

SuperGen is a clinical-stage cancer therapeutics firm exploiting its Climb® discovery engine to unearth candidates against drug targets that are difficult to screen by traditional methods. Astex is a clinical-stage drug discovery and development firm leveraging its Pyramid™ platform to discover small molecule drugs against cancer and viral targets. The latter’s partnered pipeline could be worth $2 billion in potential future milestone revenues, plus royalties.

“We believe this merger creates a world class oncology company with a rare profile,” comments Harren Jhoti, Astex Therapeutics’ CEO, who will be president of the merged entity if the deal goes ahead.  “Astex Therapeutics will emerge with an industry-leading drug discovery platform that we believe will continue to generate a vibrant and growing R&D pipeline, backed by an established revenue stream and a strong capital foundation.”

 SuperGen’s Climb reportedly combines the rapid screening of compound libraries with computational chemistry and systems biology techniques to identify drug leads that bind to target proteins. The firm’s proof-of-concept-stage clinical candidate amuvatinib (MP-470) is in development for the potential treatment of a range of cancers, including small-cell lung and non-small-cell lung cancers, and neuroendocrine and endometrial tumors. SGI-110 is a second-generation DNA methyltransferase inhibitor undergoing initial clinical evaluation.

Astex’ Pyramid discovery engine hinges on high-throughput biophysical and computational techniques to experimentally characterize the interactions of very low molecular weight compounds (fragments) with their target proteins. The fragments can then be optimized into lead compounds using iterative medicinal chemistry guided and informed by structure-based design.

The firm’s in-house pipeline is headed by Phase II-stage candidates against solid tumors, leukemias, and lymphomas, which target Hsp90, CDK1/CDK2, and Aurura/Jak2. A partnered pipeline of candidates against cancer, Alzheimer disease, and other therapeutic indications is ongoing in collaboration with Novartis, AstraZeneca, Janssen, and GSK. The Novartis-partnered CDK4 inhibitor LEE011 and an AstraZeneca-partnered PKB/Akt inhibitor AZD5363 are currently in Phase I development. Novartis also has an option on Astex’ Phase II-stage CDK1/CDK2 inhibitor AT7519. Astex received a milestone payment from Novartis in January relating to the start of a first-in-man study with LEE011.

In February Astex received a £1 million milestone payment from The Wellcome Trust, to support continuing drug discovery work in the field of HCV. The payment was triggered by the identification a small molecule inhibitor of the viral replication protein HCV NS3, and is the second installment of a £2 million award from the Wellcome Trust.

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