Vertex has licensed global development and commercialization rights to two clinical and two preclinical anticancer programs to Merck KGaA for an up-front fee of $230 million. Merck KGaA states the programs will strengthen its own existing oncology pipeline in the fields of DNA damage and repair and immuno-oncology. Vertex will, in addition, be due royalites on future product sales.

The acquired ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) protein kinase inhibitor program includes two clinical-stage compounds, VX-970 and VX-803. VX-970 is being evaluated through multiple Phase I and Phase II studies across a range of tumor types in biomarker-defined patient groups. VX-830 is an oral ATR inhibitor undergoing Phase I dose-escalation studies both as monotherapy and in combination with chemotherapy.

The DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) inhibitor program includes VX-984, which is in Phase I dose-escalation trials alone and combined with pegylated liposomal doxorubicin, against advanced solid tumors. Merck KGaA will shoulder all future development and commercialization activities for the programs, which it says will be combined with its own DNA-PK assets. 

The acquired Vertex preclinical assets include an immuno-oncology program that has demonstrated efficacy in preclinical models and a second anticancer program, which the firm describes as a completely novel target. Merck KGaA says that it plans to progress the programs into the clinic. “With this strategic deal, we significantly strengthen our oncology pipeline in two attractive areas where we have leading competence, DNA damage and repair and immuno-oncology—areas that, also have promising therapeutic synergy,” said Belen Garijo, CEO Healthcare and member of the executive board of Merck KGaA.

In November 2016, Merck KGaA and BioMed X innovation Center expanded their ongoing cancer collaboration by establishing a new research group focused on developing anticancer approaches that exploit DNA damage and repair mechanisms in response to radiation and radiochemotherapy. 

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