Agreement gives Merck the option to take back the antibody for later-stage development and commercialization.

Cancer Research UK and Cancer Research Technology, the charity’s development and commercialization arm, are taking over preclinical and early clinical development of Merck KGaA’s leukemia and lymphoma candidate called DI-B4.

Cancer Research UK will fund a Phase I trial with DI-B4, a CD19-targeting mAb. Merck retains the option to take the antibody through later-stage clinical development and commercialization in return for future payments to the charity. If the company decides not to exercise this option, Cancer Research Technology will be given rights to the antibody to look for other partnership opportunities.

DI-B4 will be one of the first drugs manufactured at Cancer Research UK’s new £20 million (about $32.33 million) Biotherapeutic Development Unit. It was designed for the development and GMP manufacture of biotherapeutics including viruses for clinical trials. The Phase I trial with Dl-B4 will involve about 20 to 40 patients with advanced B-cell lymphoma.

The deal comes under Cancer Research UK’s Clinical Development Partnership program. The center says that DI-B4 is the fourth anticancer drug to enter this program, which was established in 2006.

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