Merck KGaA adds $232M China R&D partnership to growing cancer drug collaboration

Merck KGaA is strengthening its embrace of China's BeiGene, adding a second cancer drug development alliance to their collaboration along with an extra $232 million package of new milestone payments.

The German Merck snagged the ex-China rights to BeiGene-290, a preclinical PARP inhibitor, paying out an unspecified--though likely modest--upfront to seal the deal. China R&D collaborations have been growing recently as Western pharma companies hit the ground looking to expand their list of contacts and partners in the region. In China, where the government has been fostering fast biotech growth, officials smile on new efforts by pharmas to help foster the local R&D community. And the cost structure for these partnerships can still be quite appealing.

Merck KGaA, meanwhile, has been pushing an R&D turnaround after experiencing some bitter setbacks in the clinic.

"This collaboration helps to accelerate the global development and commercialization of this China-discovered oncology innovation, something BeiGene could not have achieved alone," says BeiGene CEO John Oyler. "Furthermore this deal and Merck's previous deal with BeiGene to develop the second generation, China-discovered BRAF inhibitor, BGB-283, demonstrate Merck's deep commitment to China and external innovation."

Beijing-based BeiGene has a research staff of about 150. Last summer the company named some of the world's top cancer experts to its scientific advisory board, including Charles Sawyer, a Howard Hughes investigator whose work led to Xtandi and ARN-509, now owned by J&J, David Schenkein, the CEO at Agios, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering's Neal Rosen. 

- here's the release