Cue Biopharma in $374M-plus Merck immunotherapy pact

The move comes nearly a year after it got a $26 million funding round.

After raising $26 million at the start of the year, cancer and autoimmune startup Cue Biopharma has ended the year with a potentially lucrative new deal with Merck.

Financial details are patchy, but we know the Big Pharma could pay up to $374 million in certain biobucks for R&D and regulatory milestones, as well as more for sales-related payment. There is an upfront payment, but neither company is telling what that is.

Merck is buying into the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech’s work using biologics to target T cell receptors to help patients’ immune systems defeat cancer and autoimmune diseases.


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The Cue platform was developed in Almo’s laboratory at the Albert Einstein College, originally funded by investments from the National Institutes of Health.

Cue Biopharma says that from this, it has developed a “highly productive platform for designing biologic drugs that generate tailored immune responses from disease-relevant T cell populations by emulating the signals, or cues, delivered by the body’s antigen presenting cells.”

It is using this approach both on its own, as well as, in the new trend, of combos with checkpoint inhibitors (this could include Keytruda, although this was not stated in its sparse release today). It also hopes its drugs can yield the desired efficacy with a strong safety profile.

Under the deal, its Cue Biologics platform will be used to “develop biologics engineered to selectively modulate disease-relevant T cell subsets for the treatment of autoimmune disease,” it says in a statement.

The multiyear pact will go after “multiple disease targets” across “certain primary disease indication areas,” but again, deeper details were not revealed on exact targets.

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The trial hit its primary endpoint by the time of an interim analysis, enabling Chi-Med to stop the study and start work on a filing for approval.

The anticipated fundraising haul will bankroll development of a pipeline of RAS programs up to the completion of IND-enabling studies.

As GlaxoSmithKline looks to start a 23andMe-partnered test this year, the Big Pharma is increasingly looking to tech for its R&D.