Merck, a leading science and technology company, announced a new strategic collaboration with biopharmaceutical company F-star, Cambridge, UK, for the development and commercialization of five bispecific immuno-oncology antibodies. Beyond these five bispecific antibodies, Merck will have further rights to replace, as well as to add to these antibodies using F-star’s bispecific antibody platform. This collaboration will further strengthen Merck’s immuno-oncology pipeline and underscores Merck’s commitment to discovering and developing breakthrough cancer therapies that make a meaningful difference to patients’ lives.
“Our collaboration with F-star will help us to rapidly enhance our pipeline and grow our portfolio of bispecific immunotherapies,” said Luciano Rossetti, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research & Development at the biopharma business of Merck. “This deal complements our internal capabilities in immuno-oncology and positions us as a potential leader in this important area of research.”
Under these agreements and upon delivery of pre-defined data packages, Merck has the option to acquire five of F-star’s bispecific programs. This option includes exclusive development and commercialization rights to F-star’s preclinical lead asset FS118, which is designed to block LAG-3 (Lymphocyte-Activation Gene 3) and PD-L1 (Programmed Death-Ligand 1), two pathways commonly used by cancer cells to evade the immune system. In addition, F-star will grant Merck exclusive development and commercial rights to four novel bispecific antibodies of Merck’s choosing from F-star’s bispecific antibody platform. These bispecific antibodies target specific pathways to augment the anti-tumor immune response. In return, Merck will pay up to €115 million in upfront, R&D funding and milestone payments in the first 2 years, and may make further payments upon exercising its option and based on milestones.
Merck already has a bifunctional antibody in its pipeline, M7824. Currently in Phase I, M7824 is believed to combine two mechanisms in one molecule to fight cancer. The addition of assets from F-star’s bispecific antibody platform enrich and complement Merck’s existing in-house technologies investigating molecules that offer the potential advantage of taking a dual approach to tackling cancer. Discovered in-house at Merck, M7824 is an investigational immunotherapy designed to simultaneously block two immuno-inhibitory pathways (PD-L1 and TGF-β) that are commonly used by cancer cells to evade the immune system.
“This immuno-oncology collaboration expands our strong relationship with Merck and is a further validation of the potential of F-star’s bispecific antibody platform,” said John Haurum, CEO of F-star. “Our vision is to transform the treatment of cancer. This is the objective of partnering our lead asset FS118 and other next-generation immuno-oncology compounds with Merck.”