The ties that bind

Skyhawk Therapeutics partners with Merck to discover and develop RNA-binding molecules

Jeffrey Bouley
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WALTHAM, Mass.—Skyhawk Therapeutics Inc. announced July 8 that it has entered a strategic collaboration with Merck & Co., known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, to discover, develop and commercialize small molecules that modulate RNA splicing.
Under the collaboration agreement, Skyhawk will grant Merck, through a subsidiary, the option to exclusively license worldwide intellectual property rights to candidates discovered and developed under the collaboration that are directed to program targets. Following Merck’s exercise of its option, Merck would be responsible for further development and commercialization. Skyhawk would receive an upfront cash payment and, to the extent Merck exercises its option, potential milestone payments. Under these terms, Skyhawk could receive as much as $600 million per program, and of course there also would be a cut of the royalties should products be commercialized.
The targets right now are neurological diseases and cancer, and Merck will employ Skyhawk’s proprietary SkySTAR technology platform to discover and develop innovative RNA-binding small molecules designed to selectively modify RNA splicing.
“RNA splicing modification offers a new approach to modulating targets previously considered undruggable,” said Dr. Dean Y. Li, senior vice president of discovery and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to working with the scientists at Skyhawk to explore the potential of this new modality.”
“Merck has a long history of commitment to challenging diseases and is relentless in its pursuit of developing new treatment options for patients,” added Bill Haney, co-founder and CEO of Skyhawk. “We look forward to demonstrating the ability of our SkySTAR technology platform to deliver novel drug candidates for the disease targets Merck has selected and advancing those compounds to address the unmet medical needs of patients.”
Some six months ago, Biogen committed $74 million to forge a deal with Skyhawk in a collaboration to drug RNA for neurodegeneration applications.
Haney told Endpoints News that his company has rounded up “quite a bit of money” over the past 18 months with various deals, also including pacts inked with the companies Celgene and Takeda (both for neurodegeneration, as with Biogen).

Jeffrey Bouley

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