Astex Pharmaceuticals and Merck (MSD) have expanded their collaboration to identify small molecule candidates to target different forms of the p53 tumour suppressor protein for cancer treatment.

Under the research collaboration and licence agreement, Astex will leverage its fragment-based drug discovery platform to develop these compounds.

They will then be provided to MSD for further optimisation and preclinical development.

Astex Pharmaceuticals president and CEO Harren Jhoti stated: “This new alliance builds on our existing productive collaboration and allows us to combine our expertise and assets with MSD’s wide-ranging oncology capabilities.”

Merck will gain an exclusive worldwide licence for the research, development and commercialisation of the candidates to be developed under the partnership.

Astex will receive $35m in an upfront payment and subsequent milestone payments totalling $500m per programme, along with tiered royalties on product sales.

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MSD will be responsible for funding all activities related to the future research and development of lead candidates and the commercialisation of products across the globe.

MSD discovery and translational medicine senior vice-president George Addona stated: “At MSD, we are committed to driving innovation with the goal of improving outcomes for patients with cancer.

“We look forward to building on our collaboration with the Astex team to advance this potentially impactful area of oncology research.”

In June 2023, Merck extended its peptide collaboration with contract research organisation IRBM.