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Merck signs $922m deal with Opko Health unit for Epstein-Barr vaccine candidate

There are no FDA approved vaccines for EBV, one of the most common human viruses


Merck & Co – known as MSD outside the US and Canada – has signed a worldwide licensing deal worth up to $922.5m with Opko Health’s ModeX Therapeutics unit for its experimental Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) vaccine.

The partnership will see both companies advance MDX-2201 to an Investigational New Drug application filing, after which Merck will be responsible for clinical and regulatory activities, as well as product commercialisation.

In exchange, Opko will receive an upfront payment of $50m and will be eligible for milestone payments of up to $872.5m plus royalties on global sales.

There are currently no FDA approved vaccines or treatments for EBV, a common virus which infects most people at some point during their lives.

Most can recover in a few weeks without treatment, and the virus usually does not cause health issues other than infectious mononucleosis, also called mono.

After infection however, the virus becomes latent in the body and can be a cause for some specific types of cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Based on ModeX’s ferritin nanoparticle vaccine platform, MDX-2201 presents antigens from four viral proteins involved in viral entry into host cells. These include a recombinant antigen designed from the proteins gH, gL and gp42, as well as an antigen derived from gp350.

By using ModeX’s multi-targeted approach, this combination inhibits infection in two cell types, B cells and epithelial cells, which contrasts from efforts that previously focused on gp350 alone.

Tarit Mukhopadhyay, vice president, infectious diseases and vaccine discovery, Merck Research Laboratories, said: “We look forward to working with the ModeX Therapeutics team to apply our experience and expertise to evaluate the potential of MDX-2201 to help protect against EBV infection and other, potentially related, conditions.”

The agreement follows Opko’s recent acquisition of ModeX, a biopharma and diagnostics company founded by former Sanofi veterans Elias Zerhouni and Gary Nabel, for $300m in common stock.

Zerhouni, president and vice chairman of Opko, said: “We founded ModeX to develop innovative multi specific biologics for cancer and infectious diseases that target multifactorial pathways that cause illness.

“This first collaboration leverages our scientific excellence and innovative platforms along with Merck’s discovery and clinical development expertise with the goal of benefiting patients around the world.”

Article by
Emily Kimber

9th March 2023

From: Research, Sales



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