Better Together – Merck KGaA Announces Collaboration with Artios

Artios Pharma Building

Photo courtesy of Artios Pharma.

Merck KGaA and Artios Pharma Limited announced today that they have entered a strategic collaboration agreement to discover and develop multiple precision oncology drugs over the course of the next three years. Under the terms of the agreement, Artios will receive a payment of $30 million in the form of an upfront and near-term payments. The company may also be eligible to receive up to $860 million per target, if Merck KGaA chooses to exercise the option.

"Our platform has the potential to revolutionize targeted treatment in cancer and deliver on the promise of precision medicine,” said Niall Martin, Chief Executive Officer at Artios Pharma. “This collaboration will leverage the potential of our unique discovery platform of novel DNA repair nuclease inhibitors and targets that we have been developing. The partnership puts us in an exceptional position to focus internal efforts on our leading portfolio of assets which includes a small-molecule ATR inhibitor and a Polθ program, both in candidate IND evaluation.”

The companies will leverage Artio’s proprietary nuclease target discovery platform. The goal will be to jointly identify multiple synthetic lethal targets for precision oncology drug candidates. Merck KGaA will contribute its expertise in the area, and will have exclusive global rights to develop and commercialize selected therapeutics that are found during the collaboration.

"Targeting DNA damage response has the potential to provide an important therapeutic option for many patients in need of new treatments,” said Andree Blaukat, SVP and Head Translational Innovation Platform Oncology & Immuno-Oncology, at Merck KGaA. “We are excited about working with Artios to develop novel precision oncology medicines as we move towards changing the current paradigm in cancer treatment. This collaboration further strengthens our leadership and expertise in the field and discovery of DDR inhibitors and complements our multiple innovative assets currently being evaluated in several Phase I and Phase II clinical studies."

This is just one example of a collaboration agreement that Merck KGaA has entered as of late. In November, Iktos announced that it had entered a similar agreement with the company for new drug design. According to the deal, Iktos’ de novo generative design technology will be leveraged in structure-enabled context to facilitate the rapid, cost-effective design of one of Merck KGaA’s drug discovery programs.

“We are thrilled to enter into this additional collaboration with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany following on the announcement of the initial collaboration in 2019,” said Yann Gaston-Mathé, President and CEO of Iktos, at the time of the announcement. “We are proud to have earned the trust of our collaborators and hope to demonstrate further value for Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s project with the application of our structure-guided generative AI technology. Merck’s scientists are already using our de novo design software platform Makya™ for Multi Parameter Optimization (MPO) and their feedback is highly valuable in guiding us to improve our product and better address the market’s needs.”

Iktos’ artificial intelligence technology helps aid the drug discovery process by automatically designing virtual novel molecules, which produce activities for treating specific diseases. The speed at which the technology works addresses one of the key challenges of drug design.

“AI has the potential to improve and accelerate the drug discovery process, which could mean faster access to novel treatment options for patients,” said Joern-Peter Halle, Global Head of Research for the Healthcare business sector of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “This additional collaboration with Iktos illustrates our commitment to partnerships to access the latest technology to enrich our discovery engine.”

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