X-Chem said today it will partner with Astellas Pharma to discover novel lead compounds for complex drug targets of interest to Astellas using X-Chem’s collection of DNA-encoded DEXTM libraries containing more than 120 billion compounds.

According to X-Chem, the partnership represents its most expansive first-time alliance with a pharmaceutical company and is focused on hard-to-drug targets across multiple therapeutic areas.

The companies did not detail the therapeutic areas. Astellas’ therapeutic areas of focus in the U.S. include cardiology, immunology, infectious disease, neuroscience, oncology, and urology. In the Europe–Middle East–Asia region, these areas consist of infectious disease, oncology, and urology, as well as pain management and transplantation.

DEX—short for DNA-Encoded X-Chem—is designed to let users discover multiple series of novel, potent, and selective lead compounds more successfully and against a wide range of targets, based on proprietary innovations in library design, screening methodology, and bioinformatics.

According to X-Chem, the library is screened as a mixture using affinity-based binding to a target of interest. Certain rare molecules in the library that bind to the target can be fished out, while the rest are washed away. DNA sequencing is then used to detect molecules that are enriched when bound to the target. X-Chem says its approach allows additional chemical reactions to be usable in DNA-encoded library synthesis.

These features, X-Chem adds, yield a much greater repertoire of diversity for small molecules in categories that include fragment molecules, small-molecular-weight heterocyclic compounds, and macrocyclic structures.

Astellas has agreed to pay X-Chem $16 million upfront, followed by research funding as well as license and option fees as the collaboration proceeds.

Astellas has the option to license compounds identified through the collaboration, with X-Chem entitled to preclinical, developmental, and commercial milestone payments on licensed compounds against each target. Those milestone payments could amount to over $100 million per target, X-Chem said, in addition to royalties based on sales of future products.

“Our agreement is structured as a highly collaborative effort that has the potential to both be a leading source of new chemical entities into Astellas’ future portfolio and make a meaningful impact on the treatment of human diseases,” X-Chem CEO Rick Wagner, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Added O. Prem Das, Ph.D., X-Chem executive, business development: “The transaction includes built-in mechanisms to expand the research scope, and enables increasing involvement and input of Astellas scientists in the DEX-based discovery process over time.”

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