C4 brings the Mercks to the yard, with Merck KGaA paying $16M to join protein degrader hunt

Apparently, C4 Therapeutics' protein degradation tech brings all the Mercks to the yard. The Massachusetts biotech has signed on Merck KGaA in a $740 million biobucks partnership to find two degraders for cancer. 

Merck KGaA is offering $16 million upfront and $740 million in biobucks for the two degraders aimed at proteins that drive cancer growth. Merck will pay for C4’s discovery work and be responsible for future clinical development, according to Monday's announcement. C4 also stands to make mid single- to low double-digit royalties should any of the targets turn into marketed drugs. 

Paul Lyne, head of Merck KGaA’s oncology research unit, said the deal adds more depth to the company’s protein degradation investments. 

The deal comes less than three months after Merck & Co. inked a research partnership with C4 of its own, paying $10 million upfront and more than $600 million in biobucks for the smaller company to develop an exclusive degrader-antibody conjugate (DAC). The New Jersey Merck has the option to license three additional DACs, which would push the value of the deal to $2.5 billion. 

C4 has now inked collaborations with four Big Pharmas, with Biogen and Roche also tied up in collaborations with the company. 

But despite the business development momentum, C4 has had a bumpy few months. The company announced layoffs to 30% of the team in January, impacting some 45 employees. That move came two months after C4 halted development on CFT8634, a small molecule for which degrading the BRD9 protein did not seem to translate to efficacy in patients with cancer. 

Instead, C4 is prioritizing two other clinical stage assets: CFT7455 and CFT1946. The former is an IKZF1/3 degrader being tested in patients with multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while CFT1946 is aimed at patients with BRAF V600-mutated solid tumors. 

C4 spent virtually the exact amount on R&D in 2023 as it did in 2022, according to the company's fourth-quarter earnings report, citing lower preclinical costs but higher clinical-stage costs. The biotech still reported a sizable $282 million in cash on hand as of the end of the year.