Merck KGaA taps CRUK, ICR for source of cancer candidates

Merck KGaA has teamed up with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) to access cancer candidates. The pact sets Merck up to work with researchers at CRUK’s unit at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) on three preclinical oncology projects.

Details of the projects are scarce. The scope of the collaboration spans from target hit discovery to preclinical candidate nomination. Beyond that, little is known publicly about the projects.

The collaborators have been somewhat more forthcoming about the structure of the deal. Merck will work with CRUK and ICR to move the projects through discovery and preclinical development, while also advancing biomarkers for target engagement and patient selection. Once the candidates get to the clinic, Merck will take the programs forward and hold worldwide rights.

CRUK and ICR will receive milestone payments, and potentially royalties, In return for their early contributions to the programs. 

The multiproject collaboration builds on earlier, single-program discovery pacts between the groups, plus a target validation alliance, and further strengthens ties between Merck and CRUK’s units. Merck and CRUK have entered into multiple agreements over the past decade, from a 2009 pact focused on the WNT signalling pathway up to last year’s creation of immuno-oncology startup iOnctura.

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The agreements give Merck access to innovation from beyond its walls by connecting it to the work of cancer researchers at sites across the U.K. The ultimate success of those projects will go some way to dictating whether the coming decade is more fruitful for Merck’s R&D team than the last, during which it struggled to get new drugs to market.

CRUK thinks the latest collaboration could give Merck access to drugs that treat multiple tumors.  

“We hope that through the diverse projects in this collaboration, we can identify molecules that are effective against a number of different tumor types,” Raj Chopra, M.D., Ph.D., director of CRUK’s cancer therapeutics unit at the ICR, said in a statement.