Merck’s biopharmaceutical division Merck Serono and the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) have signed an agreement in Madrid to collaborate in the developing of cancer drugs.

This global option and license agreement will encourage the development and commercialisation of new compounds in the field of oncology.

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As part of the deal, Merck has secured exclusive rights from CNIO to develop and commercialise their new inhibitors of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase.

In return, Merck will make an initial payment along with other potential income of about €19m, as well as royalties on net sales.

The deal comprises the licensing of two series of ATR inhibitors, as well as a screening platform to certify the compounds, which have currently reached an advanced preclinical stage.

Merck Serono head of translational innovation platform oncology Andree Blaukat said: "We are convinced that working with like-minded organisations, like the CNIO, will further strengthen our efforts towards finding the next generation of breakthrough therapies."

The company said that ATR kinase has major role in the response to DNA damage and in facilitating cell survival.

"It is through collaborations with industry oncology leaders that we can bring CNIO discoveries to patients."

Compared with healthy cells, tumour cells accumulate more DNA damage and blocks ATR kinase activity with selective inhibitors to further investigate for specific tumour types.

CNIO director Mar­a Blasco said as a research organisation, CNIO is committed to fostering and promoting innovation.

"Among other initiatives, the CNIO’s experimental therapeutics programme carries out early drug discovery projects," Blasco said.

"The CNIO is delighted to be working with Merck to hopefully translate this research into potential new treatment options for patients with cancer.

"It is through collaborations with industry oncology leaders that we can bring CNIO discoveries, such as those made by the group led by Oscar Fern¡ndez-Capetillo, to patients, and contribute new improved products to the battle against cancer."

Merck Serono discovers, develops, manufactures and markets prescription medicines of both chemical and biological origin.

Image: The headquarters of the Merck Serono division in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: courtesy of Cathrin Badzung.