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Merck & Co buys another immuno-oncology target

Will acquire German biotech Rigontec for €115m

Merck & CoMerck & Co has snapped up another early-stage immune-oncology player, agreeing to buy German biotech Rigontec for up to €464m ($554m).

The deal - which includes an upfront payment of €115m - gives Merck a position in another pathway that seems to be involved in the stimulation of immune responses against cancer cells. Rigontec is focusing on the retinoic acid-inducible gene I (RIG-I) pathway, part of the innate immune system - the nonspecific defence mechanisms that come into play after an infection or disease state - and it has a lead agonist candidate RGT100 in early clinical testing.

Merck & Co is already a big player in the immuno-oncology category with its checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab), and has been steadily adding to its cancer immunotherapy R&D via a series of alliances and acquisitions. Other deals have included the acquisitions of IOmet last year, cCAM Biotherapeutics in 2015 and OncoEthix a year earlier.

The approach ties into the view that combining different ways of modifying the immune system - for example by preventing cancer cells from evading detection and stimulating various forms of immune response to attack them - is the key to generating highly effective and long-term responses in patients, although there is an accompanying risk of harmful over-stimulation.

RIG-I is a novel and distinct approach in cancer immunotherapy, according to Merck, with the potential to induce both immediate and long-term anti-tumour immunity to eliminate cancer cells. In animal models RIG-I targeting drugs have caused local and systemic cancer regression, and also seem to have potential in infectious and inflammatory diseases.

Rigontec was founded in 2014 as a spin-out from the University of Bonn, and in April started a phase I/II trial of RGT1000 - delivered as an intra-tumoural injection - in patients with solid tumours and lymphoma, including a group with liver metastases. Results from the trial are due in 2019, according to the ClinicalTrials.gov register.

"Rigontec's immuno-oncology approach of engaging the innate immune system to safely eliminate cancer cells complements our strategy and our current pipeline,” said Eric Rubin, vice president of early-stage development, clinical oncology at Merck. "We are eager to build upon Rigontec's science as we continue our efforts in bringing forward meaningful advances for patients with cancer."

Article by
Phil Taylor

7th September 2017

From: Sales

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