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MADRID, Spain—Aimed at discovering innovative treatment options for cancer patients, the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas, or CNIO) and Darmstadt, Germany-based chemical and pharmaceutical company Merck Serono have signed a groundbreaking deal to collaborate in the competitive cancer drugs arena. The global license agreement is expected to encourage the development and commercialization of new compounds in the field of oncology while boosting Merck’s pipeline.
The agreement, signed Dec. 18 in Madrid, authorized the CNIO to grant Merck Serono the biopharmaceutical exclusive rights to develop and commercialize their new inhibitors of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase, CNIO stated in a news release. In exchange, Merck agreed to make an initial payment to the CNIO along with other potential income of up to nearly €19 million (approximately $26.1 million), as well as royalties on net sales.
This agreement is the result of Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, evaluating a group of ATR inhibitors developed entirely by the CNIO, via its Experimental Therapies Programme and the Genomic Instability Group (led by Joaquín Pastor and Óscar Fernández-Capetillo, respectively), the CNIO stated.
Merck Group spokesperson Gandolf Schrimpf tells DDNews, “The agreement encompasses the licensing of two series of ATR inhibitors, as well as a screening platform to validate the compounds, which have currently reached an advanced preclinical stage.
“Ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3- related (ATR) kinase has an important role in the response to DNA damage and facilitates cell survival,” Schrimpf says. “Due to the fact that tumor cells accumulate more DNA damage than healthy cells, blocking ATR kinase activity with selective inhibitors appears to be a strategy worth investigating further for specific tumor types.”
Choosing to work with the CNIO was a no-brainer, he indicates, as both companies share a passion for innovation.
“Part of Merck’s commitment to innovation and oncology includes the focus on strategic license agreements that allow the company to foster a constant flow of innovations,” Schrimpf explains. “It is our hope that working with like-minded organizations like the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre will help us to further continue our efforts towards finding the next generation of breakthrough therapies.”
The CNIO and Oscar Fernández-Capetillo, “who leads the CNIO Experimental Therapeutics Program, are world leaders in ATR research and have developed promising ATR- based cancer therapeutic candidates,” Schrimpf adds.
The license agreement between Merck and CNIO, signed at an event in Madrid, will build upon CNIO research discoveries to encourage the development and commercialization of new compounds in the field of oncology, he said, while at the same time, under the terms of the agreement, “CNIO relinquishes its exclusive rights to develop and commercialize their new inhibitors of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase.”
CNIO Director Maria Blasco stated in a news release, “As a research organization, the CNIO is committed to fostering and promoting innovation. Among other initiatives, the CNIO … carries out early drug discovery projects.
“The CNIO is delighted to be working with Merck to hopefully translate this research into potential new treatment options for patients with cancer,” Blasco continued. “It is through collaborations with industry oncology leaders that we can bring CNIO discoveries ... to patients, and contribute new improved products to the battle against cancer.”
While no specific kinds of cancer were mentioned, Schrimpf says the ATR inhibitors “are expected to be broadly applicable to many cancer types. We expect that ATR therapeutics will be a potential new option in our toolbox of options for cancer treatment.”
Furthermore, “this is an option agreement,” Schrimpf states. “And if Merck exercises the option, it will be a long-term agreement stretching from research through development to product sales. An option exercise is expected in an estimated one or two years when the product goes to clinic.”
However, the initial aim of the program is to bring new ATR inhibitor candidates to Phase 1 clinical testing, he says, adding, “The long-term program in this license agreement aims to bring two series of ATR inhibitors, as well as a screening platform to validate the compounds, to market.”
Carmen Vela, Spanish secretary of state for R&D and president of the CNIO board of trustees, stated in a news release, “This public-private partnership between a world-class research center and one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world calls for increasing involvement of the private sector in all aspects of Spanish R&D, including execution and funding.”
Andree Blaukat, head of Translational Innovation Platform Oncology for Merck Serono, stated, “Part of Merck’s commitment to oncology includes the focus on strategic agreements that allow us to foster a constant flow of innovations. We are convinced that working with like-minded organizations, like the CNIO, will further strengthen our efforts towards finding the next generation of breakthrough therapies.”
The CNIO was created in 1998 with the essential goal of developing research of excellence and providing innovative technology in the field of cancer. Since its creation, the CNIO has established collaborations with several national and international companies. Moreover, in the past three years, the CNIO has launched two spin-off companies: Life Length, focused on marketing in-house-developed technology for telomere length determination as a novel method of disease risk prediction; and BioncoTech, which develops a new treatment for highly aggressive melanoma.
Merck Serono is the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA. With headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, Merck Serono offers leading brands in 150 countries to help patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, infertility, endocrine and metabolic disorders, as well as cardiovascular diseases. Merck KGaA is a completely separate company from the U.S. company Merck & Co. Therefore, in the U.S. and Canada, Merck Serono is known as EMD Serono.
Merck KGaA is a leading pharmaceutical, chemical and life-science company with total revenues of €11.2 billion in 2012, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by approximately 38,000 employees in 66 countries. Its success is characterized by innovations from entrepreneurial employees.