Merck & Co has extended its collaboration with Lycera to research new treatments for autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.
In addition to an undisclosed upfront fee, Lycera is eligible to receive more than $300m in milestone payments to build on an existing partnership focused on the development of therapies that target the retinoic acid related orphan receptor (RORyt).
This latest financial agreement is on top of the original deal, which consisted of an upfront payment of $12m and up to $295m in milestones, meaning Lycera could stand to make more than $600m from its deals with Merck.
The RORyt receptor at the heart of the agreements is responsible for the differentiation of T-helper 17 (Th17) cells, which produce the cytokine interleukin-17 (IL-17) that in turn, can lead to the development of autoimmune disorders.
It is thought that inhibiting RORyt could disrupt this process, reducing the production of IL-17.
Lycera has identified several inhibitors of RORyt, which Merck will take into clinical development, although no specific conditions to be targeted were named by either company.
Under the terms of the deal, Merck will gain commercialisation rights to any products developed as a result of the collaboration, while Lycera is entitled to receive royalty payments and milestones.
Rupert Vessey, senior VP, global scientific strategy at Merck Research Laboratories, explained why the company chose to expand its partnership.
“There are substantial unmet medical needs and opportunities in autoimmune disorders, and new targets representing attractive opportunities that we are very pleased to pursue through our new collaboration with Lycera,” he said.
Dr Kathleen Metters, Lycera's president and chief executive officer, was similarly enthusiastic: “We are absolutely delighted to expand our relationship with Merck, a collaboration that builds on the culture of scientific excellence fostered by both companies.”