Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) and US biotech startup Moderna Therapeutics have moved their 2016 partnership a step further by agreeing to share antigen mRNA cancer vaccines including mRNA-5671. Under the initial partnership, the two companies agreed to jointly develop and commercialize novel personalized messenger RNA (mRNA) cancer vaccines.
Moderna started developing mRNA-5671 in 2017. Both companies have agreed to partner in advancing mRNA-5671 in human studies in addition to jointly conducting studies with additional immuno-oncology therapies.
In a statement, Merck Research Laboratories president Dr Roger Perlmutter said that their work with the PD-1-specific antibody Keytruda has proved that augmentation of immune responses offers promising results in cancer treatment. He noted that the two companies are working on expanding their partnership in exploring and testing mRNA cancer vaccines.
Under the new partnership deal, Merck will be tasked with the clinical development of mRNA-5671 plus all the cost that will come with it. On the other hand, Moderna will be in charge of clinical supply and will also cover all associated costs. After the completion of the human proof-of-concept (hPOC) studies, Merck intends to take over the development and marketing of mRNA-5671 after paying a certain amount of fees to Moderna.
Deal includes $125 million investment by Merck
In yet another deal, Merck has announced that it will make another $125 million investment in Moderna in the new series H preferred equity.
The two companies will equally share the proceeds as well as the costs that will come from mRNA-5671. Additionally, as part of the agreement, the two companies will launch and partner on other programs that entail development of antigen mRNA cancer vaccines.
Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel while commenting on the deal said that they are very happy to extend their partnership with Merck as well as advance the novel mRNA-based KRAS cancer vaccine. He added that the company’s mRNA platform will help in attaining the KRAS target, which has been a big challenge.
Moderna also has a partnership with AstraZeneca, which increase its holding in the company in 2016 to 9%. Additionally, it has a research agreement with Vertex.