MorphoSys said today its Ylanthia® antibody phage library and technology platform will be used in a collaboration launched with Merck KGaA’s biopharmaceutical division Merck Serono to discover and develop therapeutic antibodies against undisclosed immune checkpoints.

The value of the collaboration deal was not disclosed, though the companies did say that MorphoSys will co-fund R&D costs, with the option to opt-out at predefined stages. MorphoSys will be eligible to receive from Merck Serono payments tied to development and commercial milestones, as well as tiered royalties on product sales that will reflect the extent of MorphoSys co-funding.

Merck Serono will have sole responsibility for developing products from Phase I onward—as well as sole responsibility for commercializing any products resulting from the collaboration with MorphoSys.

Merck Serono—which goes by EMD Serono in the U.S. and Canada—is looking to the collaboration to complement and further expand its immuno-oncology pipeline by using Yianthia to rapidly identify inhibitors against immune checkpoints.

Merck Serono’s cancer pipeline is anchored by Erbitux® (cetuximab), an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) antagonist approved in the U.S. for colorectal cancer, as well as head and neck cancer. Erbitux is the second best-selling drug in Merck Serono’s product portfolio, generating €882 million (almost $1.2 billion) last year, down €5 million from 2012, as 5.9% organic growth was more than wiped out by a 6.5% decrease due to unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

In the U.S., Erbitux is co-marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly.

“Combining Merck Serono's extensive expertise in immuno-oncology with MorphoSys's next-generation antibody technology provides us with an exciting opportunity to rapidly generate novel therapies with a clear potential to benefit cancer patients,” Helen Sabzevari, Ph.D., Merck Serono’s svp of immuno-Oncology, said in a statement.

Oncology is among five therapeutic areas in which Merck Serono markets treatments. The other four are neurodegenerative diseases, fertility, endocrinology, and cardiometabolic care.

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