Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is now talking about a possible acquisition of Icagen (NASDAQ:ICGN). But, already, Pfizer is Icagen’s primary supporter.

Icagen, which is based in Durham, has relied on a 2007 partnership with Pfizer to develop drug candidates to treat pain. Icagen’s compounds modulate ion channels, which are protein structures found in the cells of the human body. But the company has been consistently short on cash. So while Icagen has developed a pipeline of compounds around pain and epilepsy, it hasn’t been able to advance other compounds through the clinic. (Read about the merger talks here.)

Icagen has stated in its securities filings that it intends to develop its drug candidates through strategic alliances with major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. If Pfizer buys Icagen, it gets Icagen’s ion channel technology and pipeline for itself.

Here are the areas targeted by Icagen’s ion channel research:

  • Pain and epilepsy.The ICA-105665 is being developed jointly with Pfizer and Icagen. The compound has been through Phase 1 studies, and a hold the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put on ICA-105665 trials last year due to safety concerns was released in February. Icagen stands to receive nearly $360 million in R&D, regulatory and commercialization milestones. The 2007 partnership agreement has been extended twice, once in 2009 and again last September. Under the latest extension, Pfizer has committed to pay $5 million to Icagen this year to pay for R&D work on ICA-105665. Under the deal, Pfizer get worldwide, exclusive rights to commercialize the drug.
  • Inflammatory disorders – Icagen has identified ion channel targets that may have a role in affecting the body’s inflammatory response. The company has studied its inflammatory compounds in animals.
  • Asthma – The company has done two proof-of-concept clinical trials on Senicapoc, formerly known as ICA-107043. While those trials showed that the compound was safe and well tolerated, Icagen has no plans to develop Senicapoc further and instead has identified the compound as a candidate for partnering or outlicensing.
  • Human ion channel genome – Icagen has cloned more than 300 human ion channel genes, which the company believes represents all of the human ion channel genome. The company also has a library of about 250,000 small molecules that were selected for their potential activity at ion channel targets. The company believes this research will lead to new therapeutic opportunities.

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