Merck takes the Lead in cancer drug development

Merck KgaA, Lead Discovery Centre sign cooperative agreement for anti- cancer compounds discovery

March 7, 2011
Lori Lesko
DARMSTADT, Germany—In a strategic move aimed at bolsteringGermany's pharmaceutical value chain and enhancing its status as a biopharmaleader, the Lead Discovery Center GmbH (LDC), a small-molecule drug discoveryspin-off of Max Planck Innovation GmbH, has signed a cooperation agreement withMerck KGaA for the discovery of kinase inhibitors as potential cancertreatments. 
 
The collaboration between academia and industry, announcedby both companies Jan. 20, represents part of its nationwide "BioPharma strategycompetition for medicine of the future," the key element of the FederalMinistry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium fuer Bildung undForschung-BMBF) Pharmaceuticals Initiative for Germany.
 
Kinases are key components of biochemical signaling pathwaysthat control cellular growth, metabolism and differentiation—prime targets fordrug discovery and development in many diseases, especially in oncology.
 
Michael Hamacher, head of administration at the LDC, tells ddn, "The Chemical Genomics Centre (CGC) in Dortmund hasdeveloped a technology platform that allows specific screening for allosterickinase inhibitors. The LDC and the MPI have had an intensive collaboration forseveral years. Merck Serono, on the other hand, is a partner of the CGC conceptand is member of the Industrial Advisory Board accompanying the LDC withinBMBF. Thus, a scientific cooperation was a logical consequence."
 
Both LDC and Merck Serono "have a very similar understandingconcerning R&D, industrial standards and aims," he says. "Complementarytechnologies and a common interest in the partnered project led to theelaboration of the underlying work plan and proposal.
 
 
"Merck Serono is the well-known pharma partner withworld-leading expertise in oncology, among others," Hamacher adds. "The LDC isan expert in the early drug discovery and acts as a translator between academiaand industry, while the CGC offers a unique technology and respectiveknow-how." 
 
These strengths are "combined in a close, synergisticteamwork with tasks allocated each to one of the partners and reflected byiterative joint meetings," he says.
 
 
The collaborative effort could represent the tip of theiceberg. The initial goal of the project is "the identification andcharacterization of at least one small-molecule lead series for one of therespective kinases," Hamacher said. "Moreover, this project could be theinitial start for further joint projects."
 
Merck Serono spokesperson Raphaela Farrenkopf says MerckSerono "focuses in oncology on identifying key molecules involved in theformation of cancer, which can then be used in the development of noveltargeted treatments that specifically act on cancer cells. "Research activitiesare focused on three areas," Farrenkopf says. "Compounds that act directly ontumor cells, compounds that act indirectly on tumor cells via their interactionwith their local environment and compounds that enhance the immune system."
CGC group leader Daniel Rauh says identifying innovativeallosteric kinase inhibitors holds "strong potential for improved potency andselectivity."
 
 
The alliance between the LDC and Merck Serono "provides uswith the unique chance to translate our approach into application," Rauh adds.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, the LDC and Merck Seronowill work closely together, with each partner contributing its particularexpertise and infrastructure as well as their own resources in the fields ofassay development, screening, medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, he says.Neither the financial aspects of the deal nor specific cancer targets weredisclosed.
 
 
Bert Klebl, managing director of the LDC, calls the alliancea "major milestone for the LDC and could well become a role model for highlyefficient and professional collaboration between academia and industry. Itverifies LDC's positioning as a translational research center with the aim ofleveraging excellent academic research for industrial application and thedevelopment of medicines."
 
 
The Lead Discovery Center GmbH was jointly developed by MaxPlanck Innovation and the Max Planck Society as a novel approach to advancefindings from excellent basic research into the development of medicines.
 
As an independent enterprise with an entrepreneurialoutlook, the LDC collaborates with research institutions and universities aswell as industry, and aims to transform promising and early-stage projects intopharmaceutical leads that reach initial proof-of-concept in animals, and thatmeet the increasing need for novel therapeutic agents.
 
 
The Chemical Genomics Centre is an initiative of the MaxPlanck Society in cooperation with four companies. It stands for high qualityresearch and strong collaborations between industry and Max Planck research.Key to the research strategy of the CGC is that chemical and biologicalexpertise are being combined and interconnected.
 
 

 
Merck, Wellcome Trust partner on rotavirus vaccine
 
 
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J.—Having partnered on HillemanLaboratories, an India-based vaccine development joint venture, since 2009,Merck & Co. and Britain's Wellcome Trust charity announced in late Januarythat they are working on an oral rotavirus vaccine designed to be cheaper andeasier to use than current shots.
 
 
According to the companies, the vaccine aims to protectagainst diarrhea-causing rotavirus infections and will be based on thin stripsor granules that dissolve in the mouth and can be easily transported, storedand administered. Currently available rotavirus shots, made by Merck andGlaxoSmithKline, need to be kept in cold storage, making their transportationand delivery complex and costly.
 
 
Diarrhea is one of the top two killers of children underfive worldwide, and rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrheal diseasein children. Each year, rotavirus-related diarrhea kills more than 500,000children and is the cause of many millions more needing hospital treatment.
 
Vaccines are often the best hope for tackling many diseasesin poor countries, but in many cases they are either too expensive or unsuitedto tropical conditions.
Merck and Wellcome invest equally in Hilleman, which waslaunched with a combined cash contribution of $144 million over seven years.
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