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Merck Serono in $826m immuno-oncology deal

Published on 31/03/15 at 10:20am
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Merck Serono has announced a significant deal with Intrexon to develop and bring new cancer treatments to market.

The German company has agreed an $826 million package with the US biotech, and a $115m upfront payment to license chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR T-cell) cancer therapies.

The ‘next-generation’ treatments aim to use the body’s own immune system machinery – T cells – to target and destroy cancerous cells, by using specially engineered receptors to strengthen a cancer patient’s T cell responses and stimulating the immune system to mount a response.

CAR-T cells are genetically engineered T-cells with synthetic receptors that recognise a specific protein expressed on the surface of tumour cells. When CAR-T cells bind to a target, this triggers the immune system to attack.

Pharma companies are investing heavily in the technology. Novartis announced a $200 million collaboration with the Danish company Aduro Biotech, which specialises in developing platforms for CAR T-cell therapies, to ‘add firepower’ to its immuno-oncology pipeline.

In the UK universities have collaborated to form a £30m spin-out biopharma company called Autolous to develop the treatments for blood cancers and solid tumours.

The Merck Serono agreement provides it with exclusive access to Intrexon’s technologies to engineer T-cells. Intrexon will be responsible for all platform and product developments until IND filing.

The deal could involve further payments of up to $826 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as royalties on product sales for the first two products selected by Merck Serono. Intrexon is also eligible to receive further payments for achieving certain technology development milestones.

“The collaboration with Intrexon underlies Merck Serono’s focus on innovation, and enhances its R&D technology portfolio in immuno-oncology,” says Belen Garijo, president and chief executive of Merck Serono.

“Merck is an ideal partner in CAR-T for us because of their long-term perspective, extraordinary character, worldwide reach and commitment to leadership in immuno-oncology,” says Randal Kirk, chairman and chief exec of Intrexon. “We look forward to working together to benefit patients through the creation of a leading franchise in this very promising field.”

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Lilian Anekwe

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