Merck-Orion Deal to Accelerate Therapy for Advanced Prostate Cancer

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Merck has signed a development and commercialization deal with Orion Corporation to access the latter's investigational candidate, ODM-208, for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCPRC) and other related drugs.

The agreement brings $290 million upfront to Orion, which will be expensed in the third quarter. Of this amount, Orion will log about $221.83 million as income and set aside about $60.47 million to cover its share of any future costs to develop ODM-208. Orion will be responsible for manufacturing the candidate's clinical and commercial supply.

ODM-208 is an oral, non-steroidal and selective inhibitor of the CYP11A1 enzyme, which can suppress the production of all steroid hormones and their precursors that may activate the androgen receptor signaling pathway. CYP11A1 is currently being studied in a Phase II clinical trial for patients with mCRPC.

"Targeting CYP11A1 provides a compelling approach to suppressing the production of steroid hormones, a key driver of prostate cancer," Dr. Dean Y. Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement. "We believe ODM-208 has the potential to complement our existing program in prostate cancer and look forward to working with the team at Orion." 

Around 10 to 20% of advanced prostate cancer patients develop CRPC within five years, and at least 84% have metastases at the time of CPRC diagnosis. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in males. It has a poor prognosis, with a low five-year survival rate. 

The contract between Merck and Orion also covers other drugs that target cytochrome P450 11A1 (CYP11A1), an enzyme essential in steroid production, but no details have been shared as of this writing. 

In addition, the deal gives both companies the option to convert their initial co-development and co-commercialization deal into an exclusive global license in favor of Merck. If this occurs, Merck will have full responsibility for all accrued and future expenses linked with the program. Orion will also be eligible to receive milestone payments and tiered double-digital royalties on sales if ODM-208 gets approved. 

"We are delighted to enter this collaboration with Merck, which is committed to extend and improve the lives of patients with cancer and has a strong commercial presence globally. This agreement positions Orion to harness the potential of ODM-208 for the good of patients while continuing to invest in our other programs without compromising our financial targets," Timo Lappalainen, president and CEO of Orion, stated in the same announcement. 

Merck Sharp & Dohme, Merck's subsidiary, will represent the company in this deal. 

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