Warding off MS

Apitope and Merck Serono to advance MS vaccine

Jeffrey Bouley
BRISTOL, England—Apitope Technology Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Apitope International NV, recently entered into a research, development and commercialization agreement with Geneva-based Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, for Apitope's lead product ATX-MS-1467.

Under this agreement, Apitope has granted exclusive worldwide rights to Merck Serono to develop and commercialize the compound, a multiple sclerosis vaccine containing four short peptides that are derived from myelin basic protein, a key autoantigen in MS. It is specifically designed to target up to 70 percent of MS patients who have a specific genetic profile. This peptide therapeutic, which is designed to induce immunological tolerance of the body's T-cells to key autoantigens involved in the pathogenesis of MS, has already completed an initial clinical study in patients with MS.

The deal stipulates Apitope is eligible to receive as much as EURO 154 million in upfront, development and commercialization milestone payments, in addition to royalties on the net sales of any products that might result from the collaboration.

Apitope will initially be responsible for the further development of ATX-MS-1467, for which Merck Serono will fund the costs. Merck Serono will be responsible for all development activities from the beginning of Phase II clinical trials. Merck Serono will also provide committed funding to Apitope for research on other novel therapeutic peptides for the treatment of MS.

"We are very pleased that ATX-MS-1467 has attracted a major pharmaceutical partner such as Merck Serono with extensive experience and leadership in the development of therapies for multiple sclerosis," says Keith Martin, CEO of Apitope. "We view this collaboration as confirmation of Apitope's ability to develop early-stage first-in-class therapies for autoimmune diseases. In addition to continuing to build our in-house diagnostic platform in MS, we look forward to progressing ATX-MS-1467 with Merck Serono."

"This partnership with Apitope strengthens our position as a leader in the field of innovative research and development in multiple sclerosis," says Bernhard Kirschbaum, executive VP of research and development at Merck Serono. "ATX-MS-1467 represents a novel, targeted approach and may have the potential to complement existing MS drugs by offering a novel mode of action. By applying our existing stratified medicine approaches, we will also identify those MS patients who should benefit most from this potential treatment." DDN

Jeffrey Bouley

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