Merck and CNIO sign agreement to collaborate in area of cancer drug development

The Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) and the German chemical and pharmaceutical company Merck today signed an agreement in Madrid to collaborate in the area of cancer drug development. This global option and license agreement will encourage the development and commercialisation of new compounds in the field of oncology.

With this agreement, the CNIO has granted to Merck exclusive rights to develop and commercialise their new inhibitors of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase. In exchange, Merck will make an initial payment along with other potential income of up to nearly 19 million euros, as well as royalties on net sales.

This agreement is the result of Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck, evaluating a group of ATR inhibitors developed entirely by the CNIO, via its Experimental Therapies Programme and the Genomic Instability Group, led by Joaqu-n Pastor and -scar Fern-ndez-Capetillo, respectively.

Carmen Vela, Spanish Secretary of State for R&D, who signed the agreement as President of the CNIO Board of Trustees, expressed her satisfaction "at this public-private partnership between a world class research centre and one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world." The Secretary of State underlined the need for "increasing involvement of the private sector in all aspects of Spanish R&D including execution and funding."

"Part of Merck's commitment to oncology includes the focus on strategic agreements that allow us to foster a constant flow of innovations," said Andree Blaukat, Head of Translational Innovation Platform Oncology for Merck Serono. "We are convinced that working with like-minded organizations, like the CNIO, will further strengthen our efforts towards finding the next generation of breakthrough therapies."

"As a research organisation, the CNIO is committed to fostering and promoting innovation. Among other initiatives, the CNIO's Experimental Therapeutics Program carries out early drug discovery projects. The CNIO is delighted to be working with Merck to hopefully translate this research into potential new treatment options for patients with cancer," said Mar-a Blasco, Director of the CNIO. "It is through collaborations with industry oncology leaders that we can bring CNIO discoveries, such as those made by the group led by Oscar Fern-ndez-Capetillo, to patients, and contribute new improved products to the battle against cancer."

The agreement encompasses the licensing of two series of ATR inhibitors, as well as a screening platform to validate the compounds, which have currently reached an advanced preclinical stage.

ATR kinase has an important role in the response to DNA damage and in facilitating cell survival. Due to the fact that tumour cells accumulate more DNA damage than healthy cells, blocking ATR kinase activity with selective inhibitors appears to be a strategy worth investigating further for specific tumour types.

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