MRCT offloads Keytruda royalty rights to DRI, raising $150M for new research

MRC Technology has cashed in on one of its big successes, the Merck ($MRK) PD-1 immunotherapy Keytruda. The U.K. nonprofit, which humanized the antibody back in 2006, sold a slice of its rights to future royalties to DRI Capital, resulting in a $150 million (€135 million) windfall the organization will funnel into new research projects, Reuters reports.

The deal sees MRCT trade some of the drip feed of earnings it was likely to generate for its role in the Keytruda story for an immediate payout. MRCT and the organization on the other side of the deal, investment group DRI, have agreed the rights to those future royalties are today worth $150 million. The plan is for MRCT to put that money back into research, allowing it to up its activities today rather than wait for the cash to land in its coffers over the years ahead.

MRCT secured the rights to royalties from Keytruda in 2006, at which time Dutch biotech Organon was developing the antibody. Organon turned to MRCT for help with humanizing the antibody, a task to which MRCT applied technology developed by Sir Greg Winter and his team at the Medical Research Council. In return, Organon agreed to pay milestones and what MRCT has described as “small” royalties. Partway through MRCT’s work on the antibody, Organon was bought by Schering Plough for $14.4 billion. Then, in 2009, Merck bought Schering Plough for $41.1 billion.

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Since then, Keytruda has attracted a lot of attention as part of the first wave of immuno-oncology drugs, although its sales have lagged behind those of its closest rival, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s ($BMY) Opdivo. Despite this, DRI has seen enough potential to warrant writing a check for a slice of whatever royalties are due to flow to MRCT.

DRI was founded in 1992, at which time its name--Drug Royalty Corporation--left little doubt about its intentions. Since then, the investment group has picked up rights to royalties on a long list of drugs, including Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ ($ALXN) Soliris, Biogen’s ($BIIB) Tysabri and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ ($REGN) Eylea. In 2013, DRI put together a $1.45 billion fund to continue snagging rights to royalties on approved and late-phase products.

The model has proven attractive to investors and the biotechs, large drugmakers and nonprofits that own a stake in royalties. Royalty Pharma, which was founded four years after DRI, pushed the idea into the mainstream consciousness in 2014 when it paid the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation $3.3 billion for the nonprofit’s royalty stream from Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ ($VRTX) Kalydeco. In making the sale, CF Foundation, like MRCT, traded future earnings for a payout it could start reinvesting immediately.

- read Reuterspiece

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