Horizon, which supplies genomics research services, has bought cell-screening business CombinatoRx from Zalicus for £4.74m ($8m) and plans more acquisitions.
Bringing on board CombinatoRx’s assets will allow drug discovery clients to explore “thousands” of therapy combinations and identify personalised medicine regimes, Horizon’s CEO told BioPharma-Reporter.com.
The newly created subsidiary, Horizon CombinatoRx Incorporated, will combine Horizon’s gene editing platform and cell line technology with CombinatoRx’s cHTS (combination high throughput screening). The latter’s candidate discovery platform screens cell lines to find potential drug combinations to target complex diseases.
‘Patients in a test tube’
Historically, cHTS screens compounds against cancer cell lines derived from patients, looking for combination effects which could result in an oncology treatment with better efficacy or that can be administered at a lower dose.
The acquisition means Horizon can substitute CombinatoRx’s inventory of cells with its own specially modified cell lines, or “hotspots”. These are “engineered in the genetic driver” to exclude the complex “confounding” features irrelevant to the research. This way, cell lines can represent patient sub-groups, “and you’re left knowing exactly what the cells are,” said Horizon CEO Darrin Disley.
“As we move into the era of personalised medicines, you want a clear understanding of how a drug works on a diseased versus a normal cell. We add panels of genetically-derived cell lines – we call them ‘patients in a test tube,’ with both diseased and normal cells.”
The work will also include downstream processing, Disley told us. “We have the ability, once we’ve found these combinations, to go downstream and validate our hypotheses about their benefits in terms of increasing efficacy or reducing the dose.”
Whereas CombinatoRx lacked the “tools and expertise” to follow up and explore the “deep biology required to prove these hypotheses,” the new subsidiary will be capable of these investigations, said Disley.
“Effectively the cHTS platform will provide lots of data, and we have the ability to follow up those studies in-depth, with all our genetic editing.”
The acquisition will “drive new business into the downstream contract research services we already offer,” he added.
Future acquisitions planned
Horizon has a facility in Cambridge, UK, and gains with the purchase of CobinatoRx a slightly larger one in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This offering will remain in Massachusetts and we will supplement that with additional capability – CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] technology maybe.”
“Part of our IPO strategy is to look at other company acquisitions. This provides us with a base to start consolidating in the USA."
Horizon’s acquisition strategy is to seek “complementary service offerings to our own – not therapeutics,” said the CEO. “And a strong geographic footprint in new markets – that could be China; we’ve already set up an office in India.”
Ultimately, the company is looking for “acquisitions where the technology has had a lot of cooking and investment [already], and where we can come and add value [immediately].”