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Merck KGaA signs deal with Artios Pharma potentially worth up to $860m

Three-year collaboration agreement will seek to develop a range of therapeutic candidates

Merck KGaA has signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Artios Pharma to develop precision cancer medicines targeting DNA damage response pathways.

As part of the three-year strategic research collaboration agreement, the companies will utilise Artios’ nuclease targeting discovery platform to identify multiple targets for precision cancer drug candidates.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck KGaA will pay Artios $30m upfront, as well as near-term payments. Artios will also be eligible to receive up to $860m per target if Merck KGaA chooses to exercise the option to develop and commercialise a candidate.

Artios could also receive royalty payments up to double digits on net sales of each product commercialised by Merck KGaA.

Artios’ management team are experts in the DNA damage response (DDR) field and were involved in developing olaparib, the first DDR inhibitor, now on its way to becoming a blockbuster for AstraZenca as Lynparza.

Cancer cells need nucleases – an enzyme involved in the maintenance of genomic integrity – to survive in response to DNA damage.

Additionally, in certain cancers that possess mutations in DNA damage response pathways, blocking key nucleases could result in the elimination of selective cancer cells, according to Merck KGaA.

"Targeting DNA damage response has the potential to provide an important therapeutic option for many patients in need of new treatments. We are excited about working with Artios to develop novel precision oncology medicines as we move towards changing the current paradigm in cancer treatment,” said Andree Blaukat, SVP and head of translational innovation platform oncology & immuno-oncology, at Merck KGaA.

"This collaboration further strengthens our leadership and expertise in the field and discovery of DDR inhibitors and complements our multiple innovative assets currently being evaluated in several phase 1 and phase 2 clinical studies," he added.

The Merck KGaA agreement does not include Artios’ lead pipeline programmes – including its DNA polymerase theta (Polθ) and ATR inhibitors.

Artios is planning to launch a first-in-human study for its Polθ inhibitor programme in 2021, while its ATR inhibitor is currently in preclinical testing.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

4th December 2020

From: Research

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