AstraZeneca has licensed a drug which is in mid-stage studies for ovarian cancer from Merck & Co.
The pact centres around the US drug major’s MK-1775, an oral small molecule inhibitor of WEE1 kinase, a cell cycle checkpoint protein regulator. Preclinical data indicate that disruption of WEE1 may enhance the cell killing effects of some anticancer agents and the compound is in Phase IIa studies in combination with standard of care therapies for the treatment of patients with certain types of ovarian cancer.
Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca will pay Merck a $50 million upfront fee, plus future payments tied to development and regulatory milestones, plus tiered royalties. The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker will be responsible for all future clinical development, manufacturing and marketing.
Susan Galbraith, head of AstraZeneca’s oncology innovative medicines unit, claimed MK-1775 is a strong addition to its pipeline, “which already includes a number of inhibitors of the DNA damage response”.She added that 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”.
Iain Dukes, head of licensing and external scientific affairs at Merck, said the company will now be able to focus on advancing later-stage oncology programmes, notably the immunotherapy MK-3475 (lambrolizumab) and vintafolide for ovarian and non-small cell lung cancer.