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Ardea Biosciences: Drug discovery from the ashes of IntraBiotics
CARLSBAD, Calif. – The company formerly known as IntraBiotics Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is rebuilding itself as Ardea Biosciences, Inc., after acquiring intellectual property, data, inventory, and equipment from Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and hiring a new management team.
Ardea will research and develop drugs aimed at HIV, cancer, and inflammation under three preclinical programs acquired from Valeant in December 2006 in exchange for milestone and royalty payments on product candidates. The transaction, says Barry Quart, president and CEO of Ardea, came after IntraBiotics's failed large-scale trials of iseganan led to drastic staff reductions and a lengthy search for merger or acquisition opportunities. "Along with the [Valeant] programs – the actual intellectual property – we also ended up hiring the research people that were left in [Valeant] at the end of the year," says Quart.
Although Valeant's R&D cadre was also depleted, from about 120 to 50, during Valeant's restructuring, little productivity was lost in the move to Ardea, says Quart, because Ardea immediately leased the group's lab space from Valeant in Costa Mesa. As a plus, Zhi Hong, formerly of Valeant, is now executive vice president, research and chief scientific officer at Ardea.
Valeant and Ardea also have a research agreement under which Ardea is undertaking preclinical work on an epilepsy drug for Valeant. Ardea stands to earn $3.5 million annually for the research, with the possibility of receiving milestones and renewal of the one-year term. Zhi says Ardea has a preclinical group and infrastructure that supports, among other things, researching drug metabolism and toxicity, preformulation, formulation and animal studies. "We do have all the little things that a typical discovery [or] pure research company doesn't have," he says.
For Zhi, who calls drug discovery and research his passion, the appeal of Ardea is the opportunity to move compounds from their beginning stages through commercialization in one company. Zhi and Quart both sees synergies between Ardea's capabilities and the Valeant programs, with Quart citing "great opportunity of taking some interesting research technology and putting it together with very solid, very experienced development people." Quart and Kimberly Manhard, Ardea's senior vice president of regulatory affairs and operations, have resumes that cover drug trials and approvals. The appeal of Valeant's programs was driven partly by market opportunities for HIV and cancer drugs, says Quart, and Ardea's interests in those indications go beyond Valeant candidates. Though he could not provide details, Quart says Ardea will consider other targets in indications with large returns on investment. "One of the things about working in a small biotech environment that's different from a large pharma is it is really important to be in targets that are either validated or easily validatable."
Quart likes antivirals because drug value is clear after simple phase 2a studies, making trials efficient. He has high hopes for MEK inhibitors, such as Ardea's AR119, which Ardea hopes will enter Phase 1 clinical trials in 2007. Observers of Ardea, says Quart, can expect to see a NASDAQ relisting and "some pretty strategic acquisition to support our interests, particularly in antivirals." That suits Zhi, who claims a strong background working with hepatitis C and HIV: "The company has a strategy," he says. "Obviously, we're all very strong in the antiviral space."