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Ligand Pharma To Sell Vernalis Research Operations To HitGen For $25 Mln

Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. (LGND) said Monday it has agreed to sell its Vernalis research operations and internal programs to China-based biotechnology company HitGen Inc. for $25 million in cash. Vernalis is a structure-based biotech company based in Cambridge, UK.

Under the terms of the deal, Ligand will retain economic rights on completed collaboration licenses as well as a share of the economic rights on current research collaboration contracts. Vernalis will also continue to support certain existing Ligand partnerships.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020.

"This is an opportune time to divest the United Kingdom-based operations given our recent acquisitions of four U.S.-based companies that expand our domestic presence and capabilities and fortify our antibody discovery and protein expression businesses. This transaction with HitGen represents an attractive return on our purchase of Vernalis in October 2018, while we maintain economic rights to the promising partnerships that initially attracted us to Vernalis, including with Verona and Corvus," said John Higgins, Chief Executive Officer of Ligand.

Higgins said that Ligan will transition to HitGen about 80 employees as well as related laboratories and operations.

Ligand said it retains economic rights to a portfolio of eight fully-funded partnered programs, including RPL554 (Ensifentrine), a Phase 3 novel treatment for COPD partnered with Verona Pharma, and CPI-444 (Ciforadenant), a Phase 1b/2 adenosine A2A receptor antagonist for treating various cancers partnered with Corvus Pharmaceuticals.

The company also maintains rights to a Phase 1/2 HSP90 inhibitor, which has potential application for the treatment of COVID-19.

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