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AstraZeneca pays Merck for cancer drug

Published on 11/09/13 at 11:43am
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AstraZeneca is to pay $50 million up front to get a worldwide licensing deal for one of Merck’s investigational drugs which could boost AstraZeneca’s oncology work.

The oral small molecule inhibitor of WEE1 kinase (MK-1775) is currently in Phase IIa, added to standard of care treatment in patients with some types of ovarian cancer, but AstraZeneca is keen to expand its potential reach.

“We are pleased to enter this agreement with AstraZeneca to realize the potential of MK-1775 while we focus on advancing our later stage oncology programs, MK-3475 and vintafolide.”

WEE1 helps regulate the way cells divide, and the job of MK-1775 is to ensure tumour cells divide - but, crucially, without normal DNA repairs kicking in.

“MK-1775 is a strong addition to AstraZeneca’s growing oncology pipeline, which already includes a number of inhibitors of the DNA damage response,” said Susan Galbraith, head of AstraZeneca’s Oncology Innovative Medicines Unit.

“The compound has demonstrated encouraging clinical efficacy data and we intend to study it in a range of cancer types where there is a high unmet medical need,” she went on.

Without the usual DNA repair processes, the tumour cell will die - and pre-clinical studies suggest that MK-1775 plus DNA damage-inducing chemotherapy agents can do this more effectively than chemotherapy on its own.

AstraZeneca will now have complete responsibility for all future clinical development, manufacturing and marketing, while Merck is in lie for various payments and royalties.

Merck is in effect stepping back from work on MK-1775, and will concentrate instead on two later-stage oncology projects, MK-3475 and vintafolide.

Last year Merck bought most of the rights to vintafolide from Endocyte.

AstraZeneca is also active in this therapy area: last week it began recruitment in its Phase III programme for olaparib, a potential first-in-class oral poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor for patients with BRCA mutated ovarian cancer.

The SOLO programme will look at progression-free survival in patients taking olaparib as a maintenance monotherapy when they are in complete or partial response, following platinum-based chemotherapy in the first line (SOLO 1) and relapsed (SOLO 2) settings.

A subgroup analysis by BRCA mutation status of the Phase II maintenance study in relapsed ovarian cancer “demonstrated olaparib’s potential as a maintenance treatment for platinum-sensitive relapsed patients with BRCA mutated ovarian cancer”, the company says.

Adam Hill

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