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November 20, 2013

Merck and Biopharm sign co-research agreement to develop arthritis drug

Biopharm has signed a co-research agreement with Merck to cooperate with its Merck Serono division in the molecular engineering of a biologic compound for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

By Mekala ShivaramPrasad

Osteo artritis

Biopharm has signed a co-research agreement with Merck to cooperate with its Merck Serono division in the molecular engineering of a biologic compound for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck Serono and Biopharm will enter into a two-year joint discovery project for developing a potential proanabolic osteoarthritis modifying drug based on a growth factor derived from the Biopharm growth factor platform technology.

The joint discovery project is aimed at strengthening the potential beneficial effects of an existing wildtype protein that is thought to drive hyaline joint cartilage formation during embryogenic development and seems to be associated with osteoarthritis.

Under the agreement, Biopharm will provide wildtype protein variants and early pre-clinical research services focusing on the molecule properties to Merck Serono.

"These findings raise hope that a modified wildtype protein may induce cartilage regeneration in the osteoarthritic joint."

If Merck Serono identifies any development candidates from the Biopharm provided wildtype protein variants, it will own exclusive development and commercialisation rights for the development candidates for osteoarthritis.

Biopharm CSO Dr Frank Ploger said the company has evidence that the maternal protein shows an important role in joint cartilage formation.

"These findings raise hope that a modified wildtype protein may induce cartilage regeneration in the osteoarthritic joint," Dr Ploger said.

"The alliance will draw on the combined expertise and resources of Merck Serono and Biopharm with the ultimate goal to develop a disease modifying osteoarthritis drug."

Biopharm will receive upfront payment, service fees, potential milestone, and royalty payments from Merck. Further financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed.


Image: MRI of osteoarthritis in the knee, with characteristic narrowing of the joint space. Photo: courtesy of Scuba-limp.

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