Merck KGaA Creates New Immuno-Oncology Company iContura

Merck KGaA’s corporate venture arm has created iOnctura, an immuno-oncology spin-out company based in Geneva, Switzerland. The corporate ventures fund of Merck KGaA will manage the investment and will be represented on iOnctura’s board of directors.

iOnctura aims to develop a pipeline of selected assets that target and modulate mechanisms that drive immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment, which has been a cause behind patients not responding to first-generation checkpoint inhibitors, according to information from Merck KGaA.

The company is being formed around two assets from the healthcare R&D portfolio of Merck KGaA and three assets from the Cancer Research Technology (CRT), which is the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK, a London-based cancer research and patient information organization.

In exchange for the exclusive global option to license three immuno-oncology assets from CRT, iOnctura will provide CRT with an initial equity holding in the company and will make further payments for the achievement of late development and approval milestones as well as royalties on net sales. iOnctura has also secured access to future supply of avelumab, an immuno-oncology drug being co-developed and co-commercialized by Merck KGaA and Pfizer, which will enable acceleration into initial clinical proof-of-concept studies. Avelumab is part of the immunotherapy alliance that Pfizer and Merck KGaA formed in November 2014 under which the companies are collaborating on up to 20 high- priority immuno-oncology clinical development programs, including combination trials. Avelumab was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating second-line metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer, in March 2017.

The corporate ventures fund of Merck KGaA is providing the initial funding to manage the investment and will be represented on iOnctura’s board of directors. Senior Investment Director Hakan Goker at the corporate ventures fund of Merck KGaA and Keno Guttierrez, investment director, will represent the corporate ventures fund on iOnctura’s board of directors.

Source: Merck KGaA

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