Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leading science and technology company, announced its corporate venture arm created iOnctura SA, Geneva, Switzerland. This immuno-oncology spin-out company was formed around two assets from the Healthcare R&D portfolio of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and three assets from Cancer Research Technology (CRT). CRT is the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK, London, UK. The Corporate Ventures Fund of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, will manage the investment and will be represented on iOnctura’s board of directors.
“Our goal is to modulate key culprits of immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment to maximize the therapeutic potential of checkpoint inhibitors for patients,” said Catherine Pickering, CEO and co-founder of iOnctura. “Through our key alliances with CRT and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we are optimally positioned to explore novel combination therapies and advance them quickly to cancer patients.”
iOnctura aims to develop a pipeline of selected assets that target and modulate mechanisms that drive immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment (TME). Such immunosuppression has been shown to be one of the main causes behind a significant number of patients not responding to first generation checkpoint inhibitors. iOnctura, through its alliances with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and CRT, has already built a pipeline of promising programs and entered a research collaboration with CRT Discovery Laboratories. 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, being co-developed and co-commercialized by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and Pfizer, which will enable acceleration into initial clinical proof of concept studies.
Stuart Farrow, CRT’s director of biology, said: “We’re delighted that these three potential new cancer treatments, partly developed by our drug discovery laboratories alongside leading Cancer Research UK-funded scientists, have been prioritized for further development through the formation of this new company. The ongoing support by our drug discovery laboratories will hopefully help build a strong development pipeline for iOnctura.”