Skyhawk Therapeutics boosts Merck collab pact with added targets, upfront and biobucks

Merck has decided to double down on its research pact with startup Skyhawk Therapeutics as it expands the deal to now also cover autoimmune and metabolic diseases.

This is designed to seek out and develop RNA-binding small molecules to selectively modify RNA splicing as a new modality for the potential treatment of certain neurological diseases and cancer.

Last July, the pair teamed up to discover, develop and, if approved, sell small molecules that modulate RNA splicing by tapping into Skyhawk's SkySTAR tech platform.

Under the deal, Skyhawk was in line for around $600 million per program target, which came in the form of an undisclosed upfront cash payment and, if Merck exercises its option, potential opt-in fees and milestone payments as well as royalties on sales.

Now, Merck is doubling down and expanding its use of SkySTAR for autoimmune and metabolic diseases, with the same financial setup as before: $600 million per program with, again, an upfront cash payment (details not shared) and, the same potential opt-in fees, milestone payments and royalties on sales.

Under the collab, Skyhawk will grant Merck, through a subsidiary, the “option to exclusively license worldwide intellectual property rights to candidates discovered and developed under the collaboration that are directed to program targets,” the pair said in a statement.  

Down the line, Merck will be responsible for further development and selling of any approved therapies.   

“Merck has been a wonderful partner in discovering novel drug candidates for neurological diseases and cancer,” said Bill Haney, co-founder and CEO of Skyhawk.

“Our expanded collaboration into autoimmune and metabolic diseases reflects the success to date in the SkySTAR platform’s ability to advance small molecules that can address the unmet medical needs of patients. Skyhawk’s team is delighted to be working with a partner with such a long history of commitment to challenging diseases, and relentless pursuit of developing new treatment options for patients.”

“RNA splicing modification offers a new approach to modulating targets previously considered undruggable,” added Dean Y. Li, senior vice president for discovery sciences and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to expanding our collaborative efforts to explore the potential of this new modality in additional disease areas.”

This also adds to its $2 billion biobucks pact signed with Roche last year.