Lilly gives $60M to Merus, ties in $1.6B in biobucks for next-gen cancer research pact

(Eli Lilly/LinkedIn)

Eli Lilly, via its Loxo Oncology biotech unit, is signing up to a three-therapy deal with Merus focused on T-cell redirecting bispecific antibody work.

Netherlands-based Merus gets $40 million upfront and a $20 million equity investment from the Big Pharma as well as $1.6 billion in total for three drugs.

These will come out of Merus’ so-called Biclonics platform, which develops CD3-engaging, T-cell redirecting bispecific antibody therapies.

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“CD3-engaging bispecific antibodies are rapidly becoming one of the most transformative immune-modulating modalities used to treat cancer,” said Jacob Van Naarden, M.D., chief operating officer of Loxo Oncology.

“We expect these therapies will become an important component of the Loxo Oncology at Lilly biologics strategy. Merus has built a differentiated platform and one that we believe can enable us to create bispecific antibody therapies with wider therapeutic indexes than those available today. We look forward to working closely with Merus to develop new potential medicines for patients with cancer.”

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Merus attracted some buzz a few years back with its impressive list of big-name backers including Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

It had to dial down its plan to raise $100 million in an initial public offering but still managed to pull in $55 million in May 2016. Later that year, it inked a $200 million deal with Incyte to develop bispecific antibodies. Lilly becomes the latest to team up with its platform.

Merus is working on its own internal pipeline focused on zenocutuzumab (also called MCLA-128), targeting fusions involving the gene NRG1, which can drive the growth of many different types of cancers.

“The collaboration with Loxo Oncology at Lilly and their world class research capabilities opens up exciting possibilities for Merus' Biclonics platform,” added Bill Lundberg, M.D., president and CEO of Merus.

“Our CD3 T-cell engager platform includes over 175 novel and diverse anti-CD3 common light chain antibodies across a wide range of affinities and attributes and enables functional screening of large libraries for optimal performance. We look forward to working together with Loxo Oncology at Lilly to define a new generation of medicines to treat cancer.”