Merck KGaA, F-Star in bispecific biobucks bonanza deal

This comes after Merck KGaA and Pfizer got their first checkpoint inhibitor approval

The two countries’ governments may not be getting along right now as a long divorce plays out, but it’s a marriage of science for Germany’s Merck and Cambridge, U.K.-based F-Star as the two pair up for a new bispecific research deal.  

The early-stage pact, worth €115 million ($130 million) in upfront, R&D funding and milestone payments in the first 2 years, is focused on F-star's bispecific antibody platform as an aide to Merck KGaA’s I-O platform, which recently got its first approval with it and Pfizer’s PD-L1 med Bavencio (avelumab) in a rare type of skin cancer.

The deal could be worth up to €1 billion in biobucks as Merck also holds on to the option to acquire the programs from the small but growing U.K. biotech and former Fierce 15 winner.

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“Our collaboration with F-star will help us to rapidly enhance our pipeline and grow our portfolio of bispecific immunotherapies,” said Luciano Rossetti, EVP and global head of R&D at the biopharma business of Merck KGaA.

“This deal complements our internal capabilities in immuno-oncology and positions us as a potential leader in this important area of research.”

The German biopharma has the option to acquire five of F-star’s bispecific programs in total, and includes exclusive development and sales rights to F-star’s preclinical lead asset FS118, which is designed to block LAG-3 (Lymphocyte-Activation Gene 3) and PD-L1.

Merck KGaA already has a bifunctional antibody in its pipeline, known as M7824, which is making its way through phase 1 tests and is believed to combine two mechanisms in one molecule to fight cancer.

“The addition of assets from F-star’s bispecific antibody platform enrich and complement Merck KGaA’s existing in-house technologies investigating molecules that offer the potential advantage of taking a dual approach to tackling cancer,” the German company said.

F-Star already has tie-ups with some big names, including a $475 million pact with Bristol-Myers Squibb penned back in 20154, and early last year signed another bispecific deal with AbbVie.

Just a few weeks back Roche published early clinical data on its bispecific antibody in heavily pretreated patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, with the readout hinting that the T cell-activating antibody may improve outcomes in this hard-to-treat population when given as a monotherapy and in combination with its anti-PD-L1 drug Tecentriq (atezolizumab).

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