Merck has formed a strategic alliance with Dragonfly Therapeutics to discover, develop and commercialise new immunotherapies for the treatment of solid tumours.

Under the partnership, Merck has the option to licence exclusive worldwide intellectual property rights to various products developed by leveraging Dragonfly’s TriNKET technology platform.

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The TriNKET technology is designed to bind to the proteins expressed on cancer and natural killer (NK) cells.

NK cells are part of the natural immune system and express proteins on their surface. Upon binding, the TriNKET system stimulates the NK cells and makes them aware of the tumours.

The stimulation also enables the NK cells to directly kill the cancer cells as well as alert other immune cells to attack the cancer.

Merck Research Laboratories Discovery and Preclinical Development senior vice-president Joe Miletich said: “Dragonfly’s technology platform offers an opportunity to harness the power of NK cell receptor engagement to develop novel therapeutics targeting solid tumour indications.”

"Dragonfly’s technology platform offers an opportunity to harness the power of NK cell receptor engagement to develop novel therapeutics targeting solid tumour indications"

The latest partnership also makes Dragonfly eligible for up to $695m in upfront and milestone payments per programme. Besides, the company can potentially earn royalties on sales of approved products.

Dragonfly Therapeutics co-founder and CEO Bill Haney said: “Merck is a world leader in solid-tumour cancer therapies and has a demonstrated history of delivering breakthrough treatment options for patients.

“We’re excited to work with Merck to accelerate bringing drug candidates developed using our innovative TriNKET technology platform to patients with a number of solid tumour malignancies.”

Dragonfly is focussed on the development and commercialisation of new cancer drugs.

In June last year, the company entered a strategic collaboration with Celgene and its affiliates to discover, develop and commercialise immuno-oncology drugs for haematological malignancies using the TriNKET platform.