Belgian biopharmaceutical firm Complix has entered a strategic drug discovery collaboration with Merck Sharp & Dohme to develop cell-penetrating alphabodies (CPABs) to treat cancer.

CPABs are a class of small proteins engineered to bind to a variety of antigens.

As part of the deal, Complix will use its Alphabody platform to deliver CPABs against up to two intracellular cancer targets, while Merck will fund related research activities and has an option to the exclusive, worldwide rights for any of the resulting compounds.

The deal will see Complix receive an upfront payment and potential development milestones of up to $280m, as well as tiered royalties.

"We believe will deliver game-changing biotherapeutics for the treatment of cancer."

Complix CEO Dr Mark Vaeck said: "This collaboration with MSD is a major corporate milestone for Complix and highlights the potential of our unique CPAB platform, which we believe will deliver game-changing biotherapeutics for the treatment of cancer.

"With such a high-quality partner, I am confident that Complix will be able to rapidly progress the development of CPAB drug candidates that we will generate against cancer targets of interest to MSD. I am very much looking forward to working with the team of MSD."

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According to the available data, CPABs are claimed to have the potential to address a wide range of disease targets, including intracellular targets that are difficult for current therapies to reach.

So far, Complix has shown that CPABs have the ability to enter tumour cells effectively and selectively modulate intracellular protein-to-protein interactions, which play a major role in the initiation and progression of a broad range of cancers.

The company noted that CPABs are also able to enter many different types of tumour cells and remain stable within the tumour tissue for up to 24 hours post administration.

Complix develops a pipeline of protein therapeutics, called Alphabodies, mainly focused on oncology and autoimmune diseases.

Alphabodies are a class of protein therapeutics that have the potential to address a wide range of disease targets, in particular, intracellular targets that are considered undruggable by current drug formats, such as antibodies or small chemicals.