Merck Serono, MorphoSys AG to collaborate on therapeutic antibodies

The companies will utilize MorphoSys' Ylanthia platform to identify antibodies against immune checkpoints

Kelsey Kaustinen
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DARMSTADT, Germany—Merck and MorphoSys AG have announced the establishment of a strategic immuno-oncology collaboration for the discovery and development of therapeutic antibodies against undisclosed immune checkpoints. Per the terms of the agreement, MorphoSys will make use of its proprietary Ylanthia antibody phage library and technology platform to identify antibodies against the targets of interest. For its part, Merck Serono, Merck KGaA’s biopharmaceutical division, will assume sole responsibility for the execution of development from Phase 1 onward.
MorphoSys will co-fund research and development costs and will have an option to opt-out at predefined stages, in addition to being eligible to receive development and commercial milestone payments and tiered royalties on product sales (tied to the extent of its co-funding). Merck Serono will be responsible for the commercialization of any products that result from the collaboration. No specific financial details were released.
“The establishment of partnerships with companies with innovative technology platforms is an integral part of Merck Serono’s strategy to further expand upon our already diverse immuno-oncology portfolio,” Dr. Helen Sabzevari, senior vice president of Immuno-Oncology at Merck Serono, said in a press release. “Combining Merck Serono’s extensive expertise in immuno-oncology with MorphoSys’ next-generation antibody technology provides us with an exciting opportunity to rapidly generate novel therapies with a clear potential to benefit cancer patients.”
Both companies have a number of cancer programs underway in their respective pipelines. MorphoSys is advancing candidates for the treatment of cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-Hodgkin leukemia, HER2-positive cancer, small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancers and others, with all programs in either Phase 1 or Phase 2 development. Merck Serono is also advancing several programs in cancer, and immuno-oncology particularly, including tecemotide, a MUC1 antigen-specific cancer immunotherapy; NHS-IL2 (MSB0010445) and NHS-IL12 (MSB0010360), two immunocytokines; and the monoclonal antibody anti-PD-L1 (MSB0010718C).
“Therapeutic agents in the immuno-oncology field are set to transform cancer therapy, and we are delighted to work with Merck Serono in this area,” Dr. Simon Moroney, CEO of MorphoSys, commented in a statement. “We believe that our Ylanthia technology has the potential to provide truly differentiated antibodies against the targets that will be the subject of the collaboration. Merck Serono’s expertise in immuno-oncology, together with their strength in developing and commercializing therapeutic antibodies make them an ideal partner for MorphoSys.”
This collaboration follows announcements of other recent partnerships from both companies. On April 29, MorphoSys announced that it had struck a strategic alliance with The Moulder Center for Drug Discovery Research, a unit of Temple University’s School of Pharmacy. As with MorphoSys’ collaboration with Merck Serono, its work with The Moulder Center will apply MorphoSys’ Ylanthia technology to validate new disease-related targets and generate therapeutic antibody candidates. Earlier in April, Merck Serono announced a research agreement with Pfizer Inc. and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, under which the organizations will collaborate on the genomic profiling of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and lupus nephritis.

Kelsey Kaustinen

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