Merck and Mersana ‘flex’ their muscles
DARMSTADT, Germany—An agreement has been announced between Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, and Cambridge, Mass.-based Mersana Therapeutics Inc., under which the companies will collaborate on the development of next-generation antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). This is the first collaboration between the two companies.
“This new collaboration provides an exciting opportunity to expand our oncology drug discovery and development portfolio into the evolving ADC space,” Dr. Andree Blaukat, head of the Translational Innovation Platform Oncology at Merck Serono, said in a news release. “At Merck Serono, we have a long-standing commitment to improving oncology care, and we aim to deliver the best benefit possible to patients. Partnering with Mersana allows us to incorporate cutting-edge research and technical excellence to enrich our pipeline.”
The partners will make use of Mersana’s Fleximer technology to develop ADCs for several undisclosed targets in cancer and will test a number of ADCs by using Mersana’s platform technologies and several cytotoxic agents as conjugates. Merck Serono will provide antibodies for the ADCs and will be responsible for clinical development, regulatory submissions and commercialization of any products under an exclusive license from Mersana. For its part, Mersana will be responsible for conducting certain drug discovery and preclinical development activities. Though no specific financial details were disclosed, Mersana will receive an upfront payment and is eligible to receive milestones and royalties on worldwide net sales of any products resulting from the agreement.
“Combining Merck Serono’s extensive expertise in oncology with Mersana’s unique conjugation platform provides a unique and exciting opportunity to rapidly generate novel therapies that present a clear potential to benefit cancer patients. Partnering with companies with innovative technologies is an integral part of Merck Serono’s strategy to further expand upon its diverse oncology portfolio and to foster further opportunities for innovation and growth,” says Blaukat. “We are convinced that Mersana’s Fleximer technology has the potential to develop improved, next-generation ADCs. We were also impressed by the competence of the Mersana team.”
Mersana’s Fleximer ADC technology is based on its proprietary biodegradable polymer system, known as Fleximer, and a range of linkers that enable the attachment of a variety of antitumor payloads to Fleximer.
“One of the key differentiators and advantages for us is that we have the ability with our platform to put more drug on the antibodies,” says Eva Jack, chief business officer at Mersana. “Many of the existing ADCs that are in development have three or four drugs added in, and on average we’re doing between 15 and 20 drugs per antibody. Some of the preclinical data that we have generated that we presented earlier in the year at AACR is showing in low-expression models of HER2, we’re showing obliteration of the tumors, and some of the existing ADCs with these lower drug loads are not active in the model; they’re not working at all. So we do believe that there’s a benefit—a substantial benefit—to the higher drug loading that we can achieve.”
Blaukat says that within the current oncology market, “there are two ADCs approved, and as of January 2014, there were an additional 36 ADCs in clinical development and more than 100 active ADC projects were disclosed by various companies.”
“We believe that ADCs will play a significant role in the future oncology market and that in particular next-generation technologies, like the Fleximer technology from Mersana, provide a huge potential to create improved ADCs,” Blaukat adds.
“We look forward to working with Merck Serono to apply our proprietary platform technologies to rapidly develop and demonstrate preclinical proof of concept of several customized, novel Fleximer-ADC candidates,” Dr. Timothy B. Lowinger, chief scientific officer at Mersana, commented in a statement.