Merck's ADC hunt continues with second deal for China biotech Kelun
Two months after inking a relatively quiet $47 million upfront deal with China’s Kelun Biotech, Merck is back with another deal, this time eyeing an ADC for solid tumors.
The latest pact includes $35 million upfront but is largely backloaded with $901 million on the line, similar to the first tie-up, which came in at $47 million to start and $1.3 billion on the biobucks end.
As Merck reportedly circles the waters of Seagen, an early ADC leader and partner of the New Jersey Big Pharma, the company is deepening its presence in the antibody-drug conjugate field to diversify its oncology pipeline, according to SVP of oncology early development, Eric Rubin, in a statement Tuesday morning.
Merck gets exclusive global rights. The two companies will partner on early clinical development and the pharma will take over if the ADC enters later-stage trials.
At the beginning of the summer, the companies were revealed to be working on a certain “large molecule” cancer drug candidate. Now, the duo revealed the asset in that first pact is SKB-264, an ADC that targets TROP2. The drug is in a Phase III study in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer and mid-stage trials for non-small cell lung cancer and advanced solid tumors. Merck, frequently inclined to offer up Keytruda in combo studies, will test its blockbuster drug with Kelun’s in advanced solid tumors, the companies said.
If both pacts come to full fruition, the biobucks and upfront payments will approach the size of Merck’s acquisition of ADC developer VelosBio in autumn 2020, for $2.75 billion.