X-Chem said today it has expanded its more than 2-year-old collaboration with Johnson & Johnson entity Janssen Biotech focused on discovering new treatments for inflammatory disease.

Under the expanded collaboration—whose value was not disclosed—the partners said they will use X-Chem’s DEX™ platform to identify novel modulators for “challenging” disease targets. The multitarget expansion follows the licensing by Janssen last year of multiple series of X-Chem-discovered small molecules.

Johnson & Johnson Innovation facilitated the expansion, X-Chem said, through which it will receive an up-front payment and research funding, and could receive additional payments and royalties tied to achieving clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestones. The deal structure is similar to that of the original collaboration, launched in December 2014 and announced the following month.

Last year, Janssen exercised a licensing option for a protein inhibitor program of inflammatory disease, triggering a milestone payment to X-Chem. The program consisted of cell-active, potent small molecules that inhibit a difficult-to-drug protein ligand–receptor interaction.

X-Chem’s drug discovery platform is based on a library of more than 120 billion compounds and growing, generated by iterative combinatorial synthesis of small molecules tethered to DNA tags that record the synthetic history of the small molecule. The library’s small molecules cover a range of categories including fragment molecules, small-molecular-weight heterocyclic compounds, and macrocyclic structures.

Through its DEX library, X-Chem says, it can discover multiple series of novel, potent, and selective lead compounds against a wide range of targets—including some that previously failed using conventional screening methods. The library is screened as a mixture, using affinity-based binding to a target of interest. Certain rare molecules that bind to the target can be “fished out,” while the rest of the molecules are washed away. DNA sequencing methods are then used to detect molecules that are enriched when bound to the target.

According to X-Chem, the diverse nature of the library produces multiple families or clusters of related molecules that bind to the target, forming a basis for emergent structure–activity relationships. Based on the synthetic history encoded in the DNA sequence information, molecules are then made without the DNA tag attached and tested for activity in conventional assays.

Based in Waltham, MA, X-Chem was spun out last year to shareholders of the parent company of Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD) as an independent, private company.

Janssen is among biopharma giants with which X-Chem has established collaborations. Other such partners include AbbVie, Alexion, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and several other undisclosed “leading” pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology organizations, and academic centers.

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