Merck KGaA to Acquire Four Vertex Oncology Drugs

Merck KGaA has entered into a licensing agreement with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a Boston-based biotechnology company, for the worldwide development and commercialization of four research and development programs for cancer treatments.

Under the agreement, Merck will license two clinical-stage programs targeting DNA damage and repair and two additional novel preclinical programs. Vertex will receive an upfront payment of $230 million in addition to royalties on future net sales. Merck will assume full responsibility for the development and commercialization of all the programs.

The two clinical-stage programs are for developing drug candidates that inhibit the DNA repair pathways that allow for the survival and proliferation of certain cancers. One program is an ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3 related (ATR) program comprised of two compounds, VX-970 and VX-803. VX-970 is being investigated broadly through 10 ongoing Phase I and Phase II trials across a variety of tumors and patient subtypes expected to be responsive to ATR inhibition based on biomarker data. The other compound, VX-803 is an orally dosed ATR inhibitor currently in Phase I trials evaluating escalating doses of VX-803 alone and in combination with chemotherapy.

The other program is a DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) inhibitor program including the clinical candidate, VX-984. The compound is currently in a Phase I trial evaluating escalating doses of VX-984 alone and in combination with pegylated liposomal doxorubicin in subjects with advanced solid tumors. Merck will combine these assets with its existing DNA-PK assets into a single development program.

For the two preclinical programs included in the agreement, Vertex has conducted efficacy studies, including combination potential with immune checkpoint inhibition for the immuno-oncology program. Merck will continue to characterize the Vertex compounds in these preclinical programs with the goal of taking them forward into the clinic.

Source: Merck KGaA

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