Merck Serono has signed a collaboration with Polish biotechnology firm Selvita to jointly discover small molecule based drugs targeting proteins involved in cancer cell metabolism.

Under the deal, the companies will use their expertise in target validation, bioinformatics, medicinal chemistry, in vitro and in vivo biology and toxicology to target key metabolic pathways involved in sustaining growth and proliferation of cancer cells.

The deal is aimed at delivering potential first-in-class molecules as candidate drugs for multiple oncology indications.

Merck Serono executive vice-president and business development and strategy head Susan Jane Herbert said: "As part of our strategy, we utilise the strong technical expertise of our partners to constantly enrich our pipeline with truly differentiated molecules.

"Given the capabilities of Selvita in the area of oncology, we believe that this new partnership will complement our drug discovery efforts, delivering molecules that aim to transform patients’ lives."

Selvita will be eligible to receive milestone payments, if Merck starts development programmes or successfully commercialises collaboration candidates.

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The new deal will steer a joined portfolio of discovery projects in a risk/reward sharing model and builds on the framework that the two firms have developed during a two-year partnership in cancer metabolism, which started in 2013.

"We believe that this new partnership will complement our drug discovery efforts, delivering molecules that aim to transform patients’ lives."

As part of the new deal, Merck will have an exclusive licence to the joint intellectual property and Selvita will receive milestone payments and royalties upon successful development and commercialisation of products by Merck.

The deal includes a joint research phase up to lead identification, following which Merck will further research and develop the projects on its own.

Within the jointly defined research plan, Merck Serono will also perform additional research at its own cost.

Selvita is focused in the discovery and development of breakthrough medicines to treat oncology, CNS and autoimmune disorders, as well as provision of drug discovery services.

The most advanced programmes carried out at Selvita include SEL24, a pre-clinical PIM/FLT3 mutant kinase inhibitor, with indications in AML and other hematological malignancies and SEL120, first-in-class small molecule inhibitor of cyclin dependent kinase CDK8.

Image: Merck Serono and Polish biotech Selvita will jointly discover small molecule based drugs for cancer cell metabolism. Photo:courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.