Merck KGaA signs $1.4B biobuck deal with Caris to expand ADC pipeline

Merck KGaA has become the latest biopharma to swell its oncology pipeline with further antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) potential this week.

The German company has signed up Texas’ Caris Life Sciences for a multiyear collaboration that will see targets identified by Caris and then passed to Merck for preclinical development and beyond. The April 4 release was light on details of the exact nature of these potential targets.

Initially, Merck will pay Caris an undisclosed upfront payment and research funding. As the ADC programs progress, Caris will be in line for up to a total of $1.4 billion in milestone payments as well as tiered royalties should any candidate get to market.

At the center of the deal is Caris’ massive compendium of clinical and genomic data as well as the ADAPT Biotargeting platform that uses the database plus AI algorithms to help pinpoint the earliest signs of disease and identify new therapeutic targets for oncology.

Caris has been busy on the collaboration front in 2024, kicking off the year with a pair of partnerships that included allying with ConcertAI to support AbbVie’s work to develop novel cancer drugs. At the same time, Caris announced plans to combine its database with Roche-owned Flatiron Health’s AI-powered platform of real-world oncology data in order to give cancer researchers a more robust resource to help them develop new precision therapeutics.

Merck already has one homegrown ADC in the clinic in the form of M9140. The ADC, which is designed to deliver a cytotoxic topoisomerase 1 (TOP1) inhibitor payload to CEACAM5-expressing tumor cells, is being evaluated in a phase 1 trial for colorectal cancer.

“We are dedicated to addressing high unmet needs across multiple cancer types,” Paul Lyne, global head of oncology research for the healthcare business sector of Merck, said in today’s release. “Through close collaboration with Caris, utilizing their unique discovery platform, we complement our internal ADC capabilities to develop novel first-in-class ADCs and ultimately strengthen our potential to expand our oncology portfolio.”

Merck’s hookup with Caris is just the latest ADC-focused partnership this week. Ipsen jumped into the space via a $900 million biobuck deal with Sutro Biopharma, while Genmab paid $1.8 billion to buy ProfoundBio and gain control of a midphase ADC that could compete against AbbVie’s Elahere.