Mersana, Teva ink $334M deal for preclinical cancer drug

Cambridge, MA-based Mersana Therapeutics has forged its first big licensing pact, inking a $334 million collaboration deal with Teva for a preclinical cancer drug program.

Under the deal, Mersana will be responsible for taking XMT-1107 into Phase I during this quarter before passing it on to Teva's control.

The Israeli company, which has been ambitiously building up its pipeline for novel therapies as it expands beyond generics, will cover program research costs from this point. In exchange for what Mersana CEO Julie Olson, Ph.D., calls a "significant," though unstated, upfront payment along with the milestones and the commitment to pay for development, Teva gets worldwide commercial rights--excluding Japan.

Mersana's Fleximer technology uses a biodegradable polymer derived from sugars to change the way a drug is delivered in the human body, an approach that can be used to salvage once-promising therapies that have foundered due to safety concerns. By more precisely delivering measured therapeutic payloads to target cells, the polymer reduces the level of therapy in the system, reducing the chances of collateral damage. XMT-1107 is a conjugate of fumagillin, which demonstrated anti-tumor activity in Phase I and II trials before central nervous system toxicity was seen in patients.

The cancer therapy is actually Mersana's second development program.

Its lead is held by XMT-1001, an unpartnered conjugate of Fleximer and camptothecin, which is currently completing a Phase I study and is destined for a mid-stage trial in 2011. Mersana has also been exploring the applications its technology might have in siRNA development programs.

So far, says Olson, the company has raised $35 million. The staff has grown to about 20, but Olson expects to see that figure swell to 25 or 26 later this year. "The Teva support takes that program out of the budget, which is helpful," adds Olson, the former licensing chief for Pfizer. "We'll be going out for additional money," but the company for now will be focusing on the value-creating programs that can be added in 2011.

- here's Mersana's release