German science and technology firm Merck has entered a new strategic collaboration with UK-based biopharmaceutical firm F-star to develop and commercialise five bispecific immuno-oncology antibodies.

Expected to bolster Merck’s immuno-oncology pipeline, the new collaboration will also allow the firm to use F-star's bispecific antibody platform for replacing and adding to these antibodies.

Merck biopharma business executive vice-president and research and development global head Luciano Rossetti said: "Our collaboration with F-star will help us to rapidly enhance our pipeline and grow our portfolio of bispecific immunotherapies.

"This deal complements our internal capabilities in immuno-oncology and positions us as a potential leader in this important area of research."

"This deal complements our internal capabilities in immuno-oncology and positions us as a potential leader in this important area of research."

Under the latest agreements and after delivery of pre-defined data packages, Merck has the option to purchase five of F-star's bispecific programmes.

The option also includes exclusive rights to develop and commercialise F-star's pre-clinical product FS118 that is being developed to block lymphocyte-activation gene 3 (LAG-3) and programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1).

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Merck will further be granted exclusive development and commercial rights to any four bispecific antibodies that target select pathways to enhance anti-tumour response, from F-star’s bispecific antibody platform.

The firm is required to pay approximately €115m in upfront, R&D funding and milestone payments in the first two years, and can make additional payments based on milestones and after exercising its option.

Merck’s immuno-oncology pipeline currently includes a bifunctional antibody known as M7824, an investigational immunotherapy developed to simultaneously block two PD-L1 and TGF-β pathways.