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Merck strengthens KRAS stake with Taiho and Astex partnership

Partner companies could gain $2.5bn in milestone payments


Merck & Co/MSD has announced a partnership with Otsuka's Taiho unit and Cambridge, UK-based biotech Astex Pharmaceuticals for the development of novel oncology treatments. 

The strategic collaboration will focus on the development of small molecule inhibitors against multiple drug targets, such as the KRAS oncogene.

Taiho, Astex and Merck are set to combine preclinical candidates, as well as each sharing knowledge and expertise from their respective research programmes.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will be given exclusive global license rights to Taiho's and Astex’ small molecule inhibitor candidates, while Taiho and Astex will receive an upfront payment of $50m.

The companies will also be eligible to receive approximately $2.5bn based on the achievement of preclinical, clinical, regulatory and sales milestones.

Merck is set to fund the research and development of the candidates, as well as holding responsibility for the global commercialisation of the products.

Otsuka’s Taiho has retained co-commercialisation rights in Japan, with the option to promote in certain areas of South East Asia.

Taiho and Astex are already in a partnership for two oncology candidates – ASTX727 (cedazuridine and decitabine) and SGI-110 (guadecitabine). ASTX727 met its primary endpoint in the phase 3 ASCERTAIN study, in adults with intermediate and high-risk myelodysplastic syndromes or chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML).

SGI-110 is currently being studied in relapsed and refractory acute myeloid leukaemia, as well as in relapsed and refractory myelodysplastic syndromes and CMML.

Roger Perlmutter“At MSD we continue to pursue new regimens designed to extend the benefits of highly selective therapies to more patients with cancer,” said Roger Perlmutter (pictured left), president, MSD Research Laboratories.

“This agreement with Taiho and Astex combines our respective small molecule assets and industry-leading expertise in cancer cell signalling to enable development of the most promising drug candidates,” he added.

The Merck collaboration will look at KRAS mutations, which are the most commonly mutated oncogenes in human cancers. These mutations are present in around 90% of pancreatic cancers and 20% of non-small cell lung cancers.

Another company looking to crack the KRAS mutation is Amgen, which recently announced some positive data for its pathfinder KRAS inhibitor AMG 510 in KRAS G12C-positive NSCLC.

Results from a 35-patient phase 1 trial demonstrated that seven (54%) of 13 NSCLC patients with the G12C mutation experienced a partial response at a dose of 960mg, considered to be the most effective, with the remaining six all having stable disease.

Other competitors in the KRAS inhibitor race include Mirati, Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson/Wellspring and AstraZeneca/Ionis.

Merck also has an ongoing collaboration with cancer specialist Moderna Theraputics, which includes mRNA-5671, Moderna's mRNA KRAS cancer vaccine.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

6th January 2020

From: Research



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