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AZ licenses Merck ovarian cancer drug

Pays $50m upfront for MK-1775

AstraZeneca AZ headquarters London UK

AstraZeneca (AZ) has continued its pipeline-boosting shopping spree with a $50m upfront payment to Merck & Co for rights to a cancer drug in phase IIa testing.

The deal gives AZ worldwide rights to MK-1775, an oral, small-molecule inhibitor of WEE1 kinase that is being tested initially in ovarian cancer patients with mutations in the p53 gene. 

WEE1 is part of the regulatory pathway for cell division, and inhibitors are designed to block normal DNA repair processes. In rapidly dividing tumour cells, the blockade prevents the repair of DNA damage caused by cancer drugs, and so should increase the efficacy of treatment.

Merck reported results of a phase I dose-ranging study of MK-1775 at this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting, revealing that twice-daily administration of the drug achieved a preliminary radiological response rate of nearly 80 per cent in patients with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer when given alongside carboplatin and paclitaxel.

"The compound has demonstrated encouraging clinical efficacy data and we intend to study it in a range of cancer types where there is a high unmet medical need," said Susan Galbraith head of AZ's oncology R&D.

MK-1775 will slot in alongside various other compounds in AZ's pipeline that inhibit the DNA damage response, she added, including PARP inhibitor olaparib, another ovarian cancer candidate that has just started phase III testing.

AZ's programme in DNA repair inhibitors stems largely from its 2005 acquisition of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals for $210m, but it has progressively added to its portfolio in the intervening years. Earlier in 2013 it teamed up with medical charity Cancer Research UK for another programme in this area.

AZ will be responsible for all future clinical development, manufacturing, and marketing of MK-1775, while Merck stands to receive undisclosed milestone payments and royalties on any eventual sales.

For its part, Merck said the agreement would allow it to focus on its later-stage oncology projects, including the much-touted PD-1-targetting cancer immunotherapy lambrolizumab (MK-3475) and vintafolide for ovarian cancer, which Merck licensed from Endocyte last year in a deal valued at up to $1bn.

Article by
Phil Taylor

12th September 2013

From: Research

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