Commercial Merck to pay Aqilion EUR 960 million in pre-clinical...

Merck to pay Aqilion EUR 960 million in pre-clinical licensing and strategic research collaboration

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Aqilion announced that it has successfully obtained an exclusive licensing and strategic research collaboration with Merck. The purpose of this collaboration is to develop and commercialize a small molecule inhibitor that will have applications in a range of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

The reason that Merck has selected this particular protein for an autoimmune target is that it plays the role of a critical node in TNF-mediated intracellular signaling. In the past, antibodies such as Remicade have been used to target TNF, but the problem with using Remicade is that although it has improved autoimmune outcomes in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, it is possible for patients to relapse after responding to this treatment or simply not respond to it at all. 

Apart from using antibodies such as Remicade, TAK 1 inhibitor can act as an alternative treatment route but since there is generally low bioavailability in the field significant strides have not yet been made. However, propriety inhibitors development by Aqilions in-house drug discovery has been seen to tackle this problem. Aquilion has claimed that its preclinical project can overcome low bioavailability barriers. This is why Merck has stepped into the market. 

The Big Pharma will be making an upfront cash payment of EUR 10 million ($10.7 million) to Aqilion to meet autoimmune targets. Apart from this, an additional EUR 950 million ($1.02 billion) will be paid to the firm for each potential development and commercialization milestone reached. These payments will also include tiered royalties on worldwide net sales.

The aim of the research collaboration between the two firms is to develop first-in-class and differentiated TAK1 therapeutics in not just inflammatory and autoimmune diseases but also neurological diseases. Aqilion has been working to design new compounds that can cut across the blood-brain barrier and this way the inhibitor can treat neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis as well. 

In the partnership, Aqilion has taken the responsibility of designing and synthesizing the small-molecule TAK1 inhibitors, and German pharma Merck will focus on preclinical pharmacology and biology studies.

“We are delighted and proud to announce this collaboration with Merck as it validates our business strategy of generating highly innovative discovery projects in combination with pro-active business development and early deal-making,” says Sarah Fredriksson, CEO of Aqilion. 

Apart from Aqilion and Merck, other firms that have been entering into this area of the autoimmune pipeline include firms like EydisBio. Founder Timothy Haystead has claimed that his organization is the first one to develop an orally bioavailable TAK1 inhibitor for treating autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. 

There have also been talks among researchers about the possible role these therapeutics can play in the tumor microenvironment and the target’s potential in the treatment of immune-mediated cancers. But given the fact that this particular area of study is still to become congested, this possibility is not yet completely explored.

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