ANN ARBOR, Mich. - With a new leader and new labs at the North Campus Research Complex, Lycera Corp. has the space it needs to continue to unravel the challenge of treating autoimmune diseases.
Lycera, founded by a U-M professor, pioneers innovative approaches to the discovery and development of novel oral medicines for treating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The company moved into 14,000 square feet at NCRC this fall, bringing 25 employees, including a new chief executive officer and president, Kathleen M. Metters, Ph.D.
Metters brings extensive pharmaceutical discovery and development experience to Lycera, as well as a proven track record of global leadership in the pharmaceutical industry.
Prior to joining Lycera, Metters had a 23-year career at Merck. Most recently, she served as senior vice president of external discovery and preclinical sciences where was responsible for expanding the company’s global scientific network to the greater healthcare research community. She previously served as senior vice president and head of worldwide basic research managing all therapeutic areas.
Metters says one of the reasons she was attracted to Lycera was because of the experienced researchers, like Gary D. Glick, Ph.D., founder and chief scientific officer for Lycera, who also is the Werner E. Bachmann professor of chemistry in U-M’s College of Literature, Science & Arts and professor of biological chemistry at the Medical School.
“It was attractive because I was going to be working with very good, experienced researchers. There are a lot of ex-Pfizer researchers here. We have very strong chemists and biologists,” Metters says.
“I want to build a sustainable company, which is difficult to do in any economic climate but particularly this one. But we have the right people taking novel approaches to treating and understanding autoimmune diseases, which is an area with significant unmet medical needs.”
Lycera’s lead program is based on Glick's research at U-M on immune system-modulating drug candidates with promise for treating diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and graft versus host disease. These compounds target a novel therapeutic pathway and, in a range of animal models, demonstrate efficacy without the unwanted side effects associated with current treatments for those diseases.
Lycera also has an exclusive research collaboration with Merck to discover, develop and commercialize small molecules that target T-helper 17 (Th17) cells, key mediators of inflammation. The collaboration will focus on drug candidates that target ROR?t and have the potential to treat major autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. Lycera has received $12 million in upfront cash payments and its first milestone payment under the collaboration. The collaboration includes significant committed research funding, and Lycera is eligible to receive up to $295 million in research, development and regulatory milestone payments if multiple major indications are approved, along with sales milestones, royalties and a profit share option in the US on all products resulting from the collaboration.
“Lycera is a perfect fit for the mission of NCRC and the company’s move-in has contributed to a community focused on translational research that is building at the complex”, says Joan A. Keiser, Ph.D.,North Campus Research Complex director. “We know having Lycera here at NCRC will boost both the opportunities for our faculty for collaboration and contributes to our goal of creating a center for innovation,” Keiser says.
Lycera and U-M expect to have numerous collaborations, like sharing of equipment, including a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, providing a tremendous benefit to U-M faculty who would have to travel to central campus to find an NMR.
Lycera also plans to fund speakers of mutual interest four times a year in an NCRC scientific seminar series, continuing the company’s rich history of collaboration with outstanding scientists worldwide. Lycera also is expected to support multiple graduate student interns.
U-M's North Campus Research Complex now is the workplace for 1,044 employees. Those employees are in various units including research support, core services like DNA sequencing and microscopy labs, cardiovascular researchers and business development services, including a business accelerator for start-up companies.
About 150 -160 of the employees working at NCRC are new hires.