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Merck Serono, the biopharmaceuticals part of the larger Merck Group, recently entered an exclusive strategic collaboration and license agreement with Intrexon Corp. to develop and commercialize Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T) cancer therapies. With the deal, Merck Serono gains access to Intrexon’s suite of technologies to engineer T-cells. CAR-T therapies are designed to bind to a target and trigger an immunological attack against the cancer.
Intrexon will use its cell engineering techniques and RheoSwitch platform to develop products that empower the immune system in a regulated manner to overcome the current challenges of CAR-T therapy. Merck Serono has exclusive access to Intrexon’s suite of technologies to engineer T-cells with optimized and inducible gene expression.
Intrexon will be responsible for all platform and product developments until IND filing. Merck will select targets of interest to develop CAR-T products and will lead the IND filing and pre-IND interactions, clinical development and commercialization. Intrexon has the opportunity to explore targets independently, granting Merck opt-in rights during clinical development.
During the year, Merck Serono also entered a collaboration with Kadimastem, an Israeli biotechnology company, to provide drug screening for multiple sclerosis (MS) and potential other neurodegenerative diseases. Kadimastem will use its platform technology to screen compounds as potential new therapeutics. The drug screening will be performed with cells that Kadimastem produces for its own cell-therapy products. Kadimastem’s drug-screening platforms comprise human cells that can help predict the potential a drug will have to impact different cell types.
Merck Serono remains firmly situated in oncology, immune-oncology, fertility and neurodegenerative disease. Its pipeline of drugs shows that oncology is at the forefront of this. Although to be fair, much of the recent publicity has been around fertility. In May Merck Serono announced a collaboration with Austrian company Genea Biomedx committing to develop Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) in order to market and create IVF technologies. This resulted in CE Marking of two of the technologies Gavi and Geri in June. In the same month, this was followed with another announcement committing €1.2 million to the Grant for Fertility Innovation (GFI) guaranteeing to support six projects globally.
Within its cancer pipeline the company recently received fast-track designation by the FDA for its Phase III molecule Evofosfamide for advanced pancreatic cancer, which must have been seen as a God-send as its pipeline isn’t bursting with late stage trials of drugs heading to market.
Merck Serono as a whole hasn’t had the strongest start to 2015 although the financials suggest acquisitions and divestments account for this. Still facing the demise of Erbitux in 2016—although the patent doesn’t go until 2018—the company is hoping its pipeline is strong enough to support it alongside alliances in biomarker research into lupus (with Pfizer) and colorectal cancer (with Sysmex Inostics).