US-based drugmaker Merck has acquired Swiss biotechnology company specialised in oncology drug development, OncoEthix.
Merck acquired the company through a subsidiary.
OncoEthix will receive an upfront payment of up to $110m from Merck. Upon certain clinical and regulatory events being achieved, OncoEthix will also receive additional milestone payments of up to $265m.
The deal allows Merck to obtain an investigational, oral BET (bromodomain) inhibitor, OTX015, which is currently in Phase Ib trials to treat haematological malignancies and advanced solid tumours.
Merck Research Laboratories global clinical development senior vice-president Dr Roy Baynes said: "Oncology is a priority area of focus for Merck and the acquisition of OncoEthix supports our strategy to prioritise the development of innovative molecules with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers.
"The potential first-in-class oral BET inhibitor, OTX015 has demonstrated early promising activity in haematological cancers and strategically complements our broad immuno-oncology development programme."
According to Merck, interim data from ongoing Phase I clinical studies of OTX015 showed significant clinical activity in patients with haematological malignancies.
An international and open-label Phase I study assessing OTX015 in five different solid tumours was initiated in November 2014..
OncoEthix CEO Bertrand Damour said: "The acquisition underlines the promise that OTX015 has shown in the treatment of haematological malignancies and the potential it has for the treatment of advanced solid tumours."
Merck noted that BET proteins are considered potential therapeutic targets in cancer, as they play a key role in regulating the transcription of key regulators of cancer cell growth and survival, including c-Myc.
Image: The headquarters of Merck Serono division in Geneva. Photo: courtesy of Cathrin Badzung.