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Artios Pharma strikes stunning precision cancer drug deal worth up to $6.9bn with Merck KGaA

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A deal worth up to a potential $6.9billion has been struck by Artios Pharma with Merck KGaA for the development of multiple precision cancer drugs.

The Babraham Research Campus-based pharma company will develop new generation therapies focused on DNA damage repair (DDR) mechanisms under the three-year strategic research collaboration.

Niall Martin, CEO of Artios Pharma
Niall Martin, CEO of Artios Pharma

Artios will receive $30million (£22.2m) in up-front and near-term payments, plus double-digit option fees and up to $860m (£637m) in total milestones per target. Artios will also be eligible for double digit royalty payments on net sales of each product commercialised by Merck KGaA, which is based in Darmstadt, Germany.

And it has opt-in rights for joint development and commercialisation for the programmes.

Niall Martin, CEO at Artios Pharma, said: “Our platform has the potential to revolutionise targeted treatment in cancer and deliver on the promise of precision medicine.

“This collaboration will leverage the potential of our unique discovery platform of novel DNA repair nuclease inhibitors and targets that we have been developing.

Tania Dimitrova, chief business officer at Artios Pharma
Tania Dimitrova, chief business officer at Artios Pharma

“The partnership puts us in an exceptional position to focus internal efforts on our leading portfolio of assets which includes a small-molecule ATR inhibitor and a Polθ programme, both in candidate IND evaluation.”

Artios is a leader in DDR and is collaborating with researchers, including those at Cancer Research UK, on the field.

The company is led by the team that discovered olaparib (Lynparza), which was the first PARP inhibitor to be approved, and leads a DDR drug class that has generated blockbuster revenues. Lynparza, jointly developed and commercialised by AstraZeneca and MSD, is now approved for treating ovarian, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

All of our cells are subject to DNA damage, which must be repaired for the cells to survive and avoid mutations that could lead to the development of tumours.

Our DNA is in in constant need of repair
Our DNA is in in constant need of repair

The processes involved in cells sensing, signalling and repairing DNA damage are collectively known as DNA damage response.

The development of cancer cells relies on the misregulation or changes with DDR.

Artios has a proprietary discovery platform targeting nucleases. These are key enzymes that act like molecular scissors, cleaving nucleic acids, and are critical to genomic integrity.

But cancer cells are also dependent on them for their survival in response to DNA damage.

Inhibiting key nucleases in certain cancers that exhibit mutations in DDR pathways can selectively kill the tumour cells - a process called synthetic lethality.

A view over Emanuel-Merck-Platz to Merck's Innovation Center in Darmstadt, Germany. Picture: Tobi Bohn Fotografie
A view over Emanuel-Merck-Platz to Merck's Innovation Center in Darmstadt, Germany. Picture: Tobi Bohn Fotografie

Andree Blaukat, SVP and head translational innovation platform oncology and immuno-oncology at Merck KGaA, said: “Targeting DNA damage response has the potential to provide an important therapeutic option for many patients in need of new treatments.

“We are excited about working with Artios to develop novel precision oncology medicines as we move towards changing the current paradigm in cancer treatment.

“This collaboration further strengthens our leadership and expertise in the field and discovery of DDR inhibitors and complements our multiple innovative assets currently being evaluated in several Phase I and Phase II clinical studies.”

Artios’s discovery platform will be used by the companies jointly to identify multiple synthetic lethal targets for precision oncology drug candidates.

Merck KGaA will contribute its expertise and will have exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialise selected therapeutics discovered under the collaboration.

It does not include Artios’s lead programmes, Polθ and ATR inhibitors, for which Artios will retain all rights.

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