Merck KGaA grabs a cancer antibody hybrid in $625M Symphogen pact

Danish biotech Symphogen picked up a major league pharma partner today along with an injection of fresh cash. Merck KGaA snagged Symphogen's second program--an anti-EGFR "mixed" antibody now in Phase II--with a €20 million ($25 million) upfront payment and promises of up to €475 million ($600 million) more in development and commercial milestones.

Merck KGaA gets Sym004, which is engaged in a mid-stage efficacy study. Antibodies, of course, have now become a standard feature in the biotech landscape. But Symphogen is one of a number of developers working on a next-gen approach by concocting antibody "mixtures" that can attack disease along multiple fronts. Genentech teamed with Symphogen on polyclonal antibodies four years ago.

Merck KGaA's treatment is a combo threat, weaving two antibodies together which have the potential to "block ligand binding, receptor activation and downstream signaling but are also thought to elicit removal of the EGFR receptors from the cancer cell surface by inducing EGFR internalization and degradation." And the pharma giant says that it sees the program as a natural extension of its Erbitux franchise.

A Phase I/II study has begun to produce safety and biomarker data for patients with KRAS wild-type metastatic colorectal cancer. And a year ago Symphogen launched a mid-stage study of the treatment for head and neck cancer. 

"Sym004 further strengthens our early development pipeline by adding a product that is thought to act via a proposed synergistic mechanism of action not previously studied, but more specifically, it has the potential to become a key asset complementing our already highly successful Erbitux franchise," commented Dr. Susan Jane Herbert, who heads Merck Serono's business development team.  

- here's the press release