Mersana lines up for $300M in an R&D deal with Takeda

Oncology biotech Mersana Therapeutics has expanded its relationship with Takeda, forging an agreement to develop targeted cancer drugs with as much as $300 million on the line.

The agreement builds off of an April alliance between the two and focuses on antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology, in which cancer-killing chemicals are hitched onto specifically targeted antibodies, allowing them to laser in on malignancies and spare healthy tissues. Mersana's approach to ADCs is built around Fleximer, a proprietary linking technology the biotech says can better attach disparate drugs to their homing antibodies.

And now Takeda is buying into that promise. Under the expanded deal, the pair will work together on Fleximer-powered ADC candidates for cancer, trying out new targets in a collaboration that could pay Mersana up to $300 million in up-front and milestone payments. They've already begun preclinical proof-of-concept studies on a handful of ADCs, and Takeda has in-licensed the program's first drug candidate.

For Takeda, the deal is a chance to get more shots on goal for its growing oncology division, formerly known as Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

"The expansion of our collaboration with Mersana is a testament to the importance of partnership in innovating new treatments for cancer," Takeda's oncology drug discovery chief Christopher Claiborne said in a statement. "Now encompassing multiple therapeutic targets and potential drug candidates, we look forward to further advancing the next-generation of ADCs under our expanded collaboration with Mersana with the goal of bringing new therapies to patients around the world."

Christophe Weber

Meanwhile, the company is in the midst of an organizational a transition as new CEO Christophe Weber takes the reins, promising a more "stringent" approach to R&D that would focus spending on areas in which Takeda could compete for the lead. Following the same philosophy, the company is working through an efficiency effort that calls for nearly 3,000 job cuts in the U.S. and Europe to save about $1 billion by 2017.

As for Mersana, the biotech's approach to ADC development has made it an in-demand partner, and Merck KGaA, Endo ($ENDP) and Adimab number among its collaborators.

- read the statement

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