Merck KGgA has acquired to global rights to Symphogen's investigational cancer antibody Sym004 in a deal worth up to €495m.
The drug is currently being evaluated in a phase I/II trial for the treatment of patients with advanced metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) who have the wild-type KRAS gene and whose disease progressed despite treatment with standard chemotherapy and an anti-EGFR monoclonal antibody.
It is also being evaluated in a phase II trial in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) who have failed on anti-EGFR-based therapy.
Merck will pay €20m upfront for the drug, while Symphogen is also eligible to receive up to €225m in clinical development and regulatory milestone payments and €250m in potential sales performance milestones as well as royalties on net worldwide sales.
Dr Susan Jane Herbert, head of global business development and strategy for Merck KGaA's pharmaceutical division Merck Serono, said the drug would complement its anti-EGFR antibody Erbitux (cetuximab) franchise, which is available for the treatment of metastatic cancer of the colon or rectum and SCCHN.
“This collaboration once again reflects our strong commitment to fighting cancer and to providing new treatment options to patients,” she said.
If approved, Sym004 would be available as a second-line treatment if there is disease progression for patients using Erbitux.
Sym004 combines two antibodies that inhibit cancer cells in three separate actions. First it inhibits the ligand binding, activation and signalling of the EGF receptor, which causes cancer cells to grow. It then causes the degradation of the EGF receptor itself, before inducing the body's immune system to attack the actual cancer cells.
“We believe that Merck is uniquely well positioned to develop Sym004 based on its deep knowledge of the EGFR area," said Kirsten Drejer, Symphogen's CEO. “This transaction further validates the antibody mixture approach as a highly attractive option.”
The acquisition adds another element to Merck Serono's oncology pipeline, which includes Stimuvax, an investigational multi-cancer vaccine currently in phase III development, and Cilengitide, which is under investigation in collaboration with Technical University Munich for use in the treatment of glioma – a type of brain tumour that begins in glial cells.