Merck has expanded the research phase of its strategic alliance with NGM Biopharmaceuticals until March 2022.

The initial five year collaboration between the two organisations was signed in February 2015, and focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of new biologic therapies.

Merck, also known as MSD, originally signed the deal with the option to etended the research phase from March 2020 to March 2022.

Merck will now continue to fund NGM’s research and development efforts over the extended period from March 2020 to March 2022, at a similar level to the original terms.

Merck intends to offer a series of payments up to the threshold of $20m to support NGM’s research and development activities in 2021 and 2022.

Under the terms of the initial agreement, Merck additionally retains an extension option for another two years, exercisable in 2021.

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NGM Biopharmaceuticals CEO David Woodhouse said: “The deep resources and scientific autonomy provided by this collaboration have enabled NGM to amplify the output of our powerful discovery engine and maximize our ambitious research and development goals.

“Merck will now continue to fund NGM’s research and development efforts until March 2022, at a similar level to the original terms.”

“Together, we have progressed several potential first-in-class drug candidates into clinical development, including NGM313, now known as MK-3655, and we look forward to sustaining this productivity on behalf of patients.”

Merck has simultaneously decided to terminate its licence to the NGM growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) receptor agonist programme intended treat obesity at the end of May, which it gained an exclusive worldwide licence to as part of the initial agreement.

This will give NGM the exclusive intellectual property rights for the GDF15 programme for further development and commercialisation, subject to the payment of a low single digit royalty on any future product sales back to Merck.

In January this year, Merck exercised its option to licence NGM313, which is a monoclonal antibody agonist of β-Klotho/FGFR1c receptor complex intended for the treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

The licensing option was triggered by NGM’s completion of NGM313’s proof-of-concept clinical study.  Merck plans to advance the product into a Phase IIb study to assess its effect on liver histology and glucose control in NASH patients with or without diabetes.