Merck in deal for Queensland immunotherapies

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German-based Merck has entered a new licensing agreement with the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute covering novel cancer immunotherapies.

The immunotherapeutic antibodies were developed against a target discovered by the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Molecular Immunology Laboratory, Associate Professor Michelle Wykes.

Under the agreement, the terms of which are commercial-in-confidence, Merck will be responsible for further optimisation of the antibodies, IND enabling studies, and the clinical development and, in case of positive clinical outcomes, registration and commercialisation of the immunotherapeutic antibodies.

Merck Healthcare managing director for Australia and New Zealand Leah Goodman said, “I am delighted to see a collaboration which combines Australian medical research with Merck’s depth of experience in clinical development to collaborate towards delivering the cancer immunotherapies of the future.”

Queensland’s health minister Steven Miles said, “This deal with Merck shows that QIMR Berghofer – with the support of the Queensland Government – is producing world-leading research in the area of cancer immunotherapy.

“These promising discoveries start in the lab, but they can’t become available to patients unless our scientists collaborate with industry to develop and trial these new treatments.

“This agreement between QIMR Berghofer and Merck brings us one step closer to developing a new immunotherapy we can offer cancer patients around Australia and the world.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO, Professor Fabienne Mackay, said the immunotherapeutic antibodies appeared to be very promising.

“Associate Professor Wykes and her team have seen very positive responses to these antibodies in pre-clinical models,” said Professor Mackay.

“Over the last decade, immunotherapies have significantly improved survival rates in a number of cancers – particularly some, like melanoma, that didn’t respond well to chemotherapy.

“However, not all cancers or patients respond to the immunotherapies available. We hope this collaboration between Associate Professor Wykes and Merck will ultimately give doctors another weapon in their arsenal against cancer.”

Associate Professor Wykes has welcomed the agreement.

“This agreement is the culmination of 10 years of work by my team and me to develop these immunotherapeutic antibodies,” Associate Professor Wykes said.

“We are looking forward to working with Merck to move this promising research closer to the hospital bedside.”