Merck has signed a worldwide licensing agreement with AstraZeneca for its ovarian cancer drug, which is currently in Phase II clinical studies.
Under the agreement, AstraZeneca will pay Merck a $50m upfront fee and, in addition, Merck will be eligible to receive future payments tied to development and regulatory milestones, plus sales-related payments and tiered royalties.
AstraZeneca will be responsible for all future clinical development manufacturing and marketing.
The drug, MK-1775, is currently being evaluated for the treatment of certain types of ovarian cancer when administered along with standard-of-care therapies.
Preclinical evidence suggests the combination of MK-1775 and DNA damage-inducing chemotherapy agents can enhance anti-tumor properties in comparison with chemotherapy alone.
AstraZeneca’s oncology innovative medicines unit head Susan Galbraith said: "MK-1775 is a strong addition to AstraZeneca’s growing oncology pipeline, which already includes a number of inhibitors of the DNA damage response.
"The compound has demonstrated encouraging clinical efficacy data and we intend to study it in a range of cancer types where there is a high unmet medical need."
The drug works by helping regulate the cell-division cycle. It is designed to cause certain tumour cells to divide without undergoing normal DNA repair processes, ultimately leading to cell death.
Merck senior vice-president and head of licensing and external scientific affairs Iain D Dukes said: "Merck is committed to advancing potentially meaningful therapeutic options promptly for patients with cancer.
"We are pleased to enter this agreement with AstraZeneca to realize the potential of MK-1775 while we focus on advancing our later stage oncology programmes MK-3475 and vintafolide."
Image: Intermediate magnification micrograph of a low malignant potential (LMP) mucinous ovarian tumour. Photo: courtesy of Nephron.