UPDATED: Merck partners with Bind on a pair of new cancer drug programs

Bind's Robert Langer

Four months after Bind Therapeutics ($BIND) lost marquee development partner Amgen ($AMGN), Merck ($MRK) has stepped up to take the Big Biotech's place in the lineup. The pharma giant, which has been investing heavily in its cancer drug pipeline, is turning over a pair of early-stage drug candidates to see if Bind's delivery technology can amp up their efficacy.

Bind also rolled out its second in-house program this morning, this time centering on vincristine, a chemo drug which has had dose-limiting toxicity issues in the past.

Unlike the Amgen deal, which included a $46.5 million upfront, Bind and Merck are keeping the exact details of this deal under wraps. Bind will get access to Merck's kinesin spindle protein inhibitor and a polo-like kinase 1 inhibitor, which both regulate cellular mitosis, a pathway for metastasis. And then they can add more molecules to the partnership down the road, if the partnership is working well.

Bind will pay the tab on using its nanoengineering expertise to get the drugs through a proof-of-concept study and then the partners will take turns choosing whether they want to take the drug candidate forward toward commercialization. Bind will be on the hook for royalties if it decides to take the lead while Merck will be required to make some milestone payments if its team decided to take the lead development role.

If Merck takes the lead, they "would pay us based on a multiple of the investment we had made to that point," notes Bind CEO Scott Minick.

Bind's deal with Amgen may not have paid out in the long term, but the relationship the biotech created with its then-external R&D chief Iain Dukes helped set the stage for this new pact with Merck. Merck hired ex-Amgen R&D chief Roger Perlmutter to run R&D, and Perlmutter then helped recruit Dukes to Merck. Merck was "thinking strategically on oncology, and we found a nice alignment of interests," Minick tells FierceBiotech.

Bind's second proprietary program, dubbed BIND-510, will attempt to derisk vincristine with its targeting technology. The drug targets prostate-specific membrane antigen. And the company says it found the safety profile it was looking for using in vivo tumor models. BIND plans to file an IND with the FDA in 2016.

"Vincristine is one of the most potent cytotoxics out there," notes Minick, and the drug is also completely indiscriminate in the damage it does. Bind's targeting tech may be able to fix that issue and make this drug much more effective for cancer patients.

Bind--a 2008 Fierce 15 company--has been building on the insights of MIT's Robert Langer and Harvard's Omid Farokhzad on the use of polymers in drug delivery. Accurins are designed to more precisely deliver therapeutics to their target, an approach that allows for using bigger payloads of a cancer drug to more completely eviscerate its target. That kind of an approach marries well with existing therapies, though Amgen clearly didn't see what it was hoping for.

"We are pleased to collaborate with BIND Therapeutics to expand Merck's active oncology discovery programs," said Dr. Eric Rubin, vice president, clinical oncology, Merck Research Laboratories. "Merck is focused on exploring immuno-oncology and other promising pathways, and we look forward to combining compounds from our oncology portfolio with BIND's nanomedicine technology platform."

Just yesterday Bind announced that it had hired Hagop Youssoufian as its new chief medical officer. Youssoufian is a biotech vet who completed a stint at Ziopharm (partnered with Intrexon) after working at Eli Lilly ($LLY), ImClone and Sanofi ($SNY).

- here's the release

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2008 Fierce 15 - Bind BioSciences

Suggested Articles

The deal gives J&J a stake in the development and commercialization of anticoagulants including phase 2-ready secondary stroke candidate BMS-986177.

Boehringer gained the global rights to OSE's SIRP-alpha antagonist, which is in development for solid tumors.

Lilly is diving into encapsulated beta cell treatments, designed to restore insulin production in patients with Type 1 diabetes.