Merck & Co. Expands mRNA Cancer Vaccines Pact, Takes Equity Stake in Moderna
Merck & Co. and Moderna Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biopharmaceutical company focused on messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics, have expanded their 2016 collaboration to develop and commercialize mRNA cancer vaccines to now include shared antigen mRNA cancer vaccines, including Moderna’s mRNA KRAS cancer vaccine, mRNA-5671. Merck & Co. has also taken an equity investment in Moderna.
Moderna began developing mRNA-5671 in 2017. The two companies will now advance jointly mRNA-5671 in human studies and plan to conduct combination studies with additional immuno-oncology therapies. The Moderna KRAS mRNA program uses tumor sequencing to identify suitable patients with specific mutations in KRAS in order to personalize their therapy and adds to the other personalized mRNA cancer vaccines in the collaboration. KRAS is a frequently mutated oncogenes in human cancer (approximately 30% of all cases), according to information from Moderna. KRAS mutations are found principally in non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer, according to information from the company.
Under the expanded agreement, Merck & Co. will be responsible for clinical development of mRNA-5671 and associated costs while Moderna will be responsible for clinical supply and associated costs. Following the completion of human proof-of-concept studies, Merck & Co. may opt in on further development and commercialization of mRNA-5671 upon payment of an undisclosed fee to Moderna. Following opt-in, the parties will equally share the global net profits and costs associated with mRNA-5671. As part of this agreement, the parties may also initiate and collaborate on other shared antigen mRNA cancer vaccines programs. In addition, Merck & Co. will make a $125-million investment in Moderna in newly priced series H preferred equity. Moderna closed a series G round earlier in 2018.