West Coast Editor

Making the transition from pure contract research organization to drug development firm, Ricerca LLC is licensing the RAP-3 gene from Genset SA, with plans to start an oncology program that uses the gene as a drug target and possibly as a protein therapeutic.

Concord, Ohio-based Ricerca has been making moves into the drug development zone for the past year, taking aim at anti-infectives and cancer. Which of those two areas will get more attention is “hard to say at this point because we’re still in discussions on deals,” said David Stout, director of medicinal chemistry at Ricerca.

“We’ll still do strict contract work, as well,” he added.

“Probably [the emphasis] will be more toward the anti-infectives, maybe 60-40, partly because our CEO has expertise in that,” he said. “Another reason is that the models are easier to assess activity in. If you look at the literature, the chances of success are probably higher in anti-infectives.”

The latter category could yield a candidate that enters the clinic in two to three years, Stout said.

“We’re negotiating with some companies that have compounds identified and have done some lead optimization,” he said. “Some have done high-throughput screening and come up with hits. In that case, it would be probably two years. With Genset, it’s going to take a little bit longer.”

RAP-3 is the first of several new gene targets Ricerca intends to license from Genset, of Paris, which concentrates its research mainly on metabolic disorders and central nervous system diseases.

Stout noted that Ricerca’s ChemoProteomics platform for validating gene targets and identifying drug leads, which consists of high-throughput screening used with proteomics, is an important asset, especially with medicinal chemistry recently gained through a partnership with Gvk bioSciences Private Ltd., of Hyderabad, India.

Ricerca, with 250 employees, is privately held by SG Capital Partners, of New York, and Venture Biologics LLC, of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. The goal of increasing Ricerca’s valuation was the main reason it’s entering drug development, Stout said.

“[CRO work] is not so much a crowded field,” he said. “We can be a player in it, and we have been.” The company will continue earning money through CRO endeavors, he added probably dividing resources equally between that and drug development.

“We’re figuring, in essence, we’d be almost revenue neutral,” Stout told BioWorld Today. “What we’re paid in the contract business would pay for what we do in drug development. But we’re going to be doing milestone payments and things like that, and we don’t know how much revenue that would generate.”

Although some uncertainty lies ahead, dividing the efforts of the company to boost its value, rather than changing direction as a CRO entirely, is a move Ricerca is uniquely equipped to do, Stout said.

“I don’t think there are any CRO companies that have the medicinal chemistry and biology and ADMET [measuring of absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and toxicity] all in one place,” he said. “It’s a new paradigm, and we’re feeling our way as we go.”