Gilead Sciences has entered a research partnership, option and licence agreement with Merus for the discovery of dual tumour-associated antigens targeting trispecific antibodies.

The partnership will leverage Merus’ Triclonics technology and Gilead’s capabilities in the oncology field.

The aim is to advance multiple preclinical research programmes that could potentially transform cancer treatment.

Merus focuses on the development of full-length, multispecific antibodies named Biclonics and Triclonics, referred to collectively as Multiclonics. These antibodies are created by a common light chain technology.

The Triclonics trispecific platform creates antibodies that can target three different antigens simultaneously.

Merus will spearhead the early-stage research works for two programmes, with the option to expand to a third asset.

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Gilead will hold the rights to license any programmes developed under this partnership on concluding specified research activities.

On Gilead’s opting to license a programme, the company will oversee its subsequent research, development and commercialisation.

For initial programmes, Merus is entitled to receive a $56m upfront cash payment and $25m in equity investment from Gilead.

The agreement also outlines the potential for Merus to earn up to $1.5bn, including additional near-term and option payments. This amount includes development, commercialisation milestone payments and royalty payments on product sales.

For a third potential programme, Merus has the option to choose to share profit and loss equally.

Gilead Sciences Research executive vice-president Flavius Martin stated: “We have seen the successful application of bispecific antibodies as an immune-modulating modality used to treat cancer. We are now looking ahead to the development of additional multispecific antibodies capable of driving robust anti-tumour immune responses with an improved efficacy and safety profile.

“We are excited to explore the potential of Merus’ differentiated Triclonics platform to discover and advance transformative new cancer therapies as we deepen our portfolio across oncology indications.”

The latest development comes after Biocytogen and Gilead signed a deal for the discovery and development of new antibody therapeutics.