Ligand licenses prodrug tech to oral COVID-19 antiviral project

SARS-CoV-2
The deal gives Ligand a shot at playing a role in upcoming phases of the pharmaceutical response to COVID-19. (libre de droit/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ligand Pharmaceuticals wants another piece of the COVID-19 pie. Having been one of the companies behind Gilead’s Veklury, Ligand has positioned itself to support an oral COVID-19 antiviral through a deal with China Resources Double-Crane Pharmaceutical (CRDC).

The deal grants CRDC exclusive rights to use Ligand’s BEPro technology for use in an oral COVID-19 antiviral for the Asian market. BEPro is a prodrug technology for nucleotides and nucleotide analogs. As antivirals including Sovaldi have shown, prodrugs—molecules that are converted into the active form after administration—can overcome the limitations of nucleotides and their analogs.

Ligand has assessed the application of its prodrug technology to oral COVID-19 antivirals, emerging with evidence that it says shows the technology yields a favorable blood concentration profile and lower levels of the active nucleotide in the kidney than oral and intravenous rivals. The focus on the level of active drug in the kidney reflects the status of the organ as a potential site for toxicity. 

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In return for access to the technology, CRDC, which will carry all the costs of the program, is paying Ligand an upfront fee of undisclosed size and committing to a package of clinical and regulatory milestone payments. CRDC is part of China Resources, a Chinese state-owned conglomerate with revenues of almost $100 billion.

The deal gives Ligand a shot at playing a role in upcoming phases of the pharmaceutical response to COVID-19. Ligand had a low profile but important role in the initial response through its involvement in Veklury, which is formulated with its Captisol technology. Captisol is designed to optimize the solubility and stability of drugs.