Germany’s Merck KGaA is linking up with the USA’s Idera Pharmaceuticals in an oncology deal that could be worth over $400 million.

The Darmstadt-based firm’s Merck Serono unit is getting an exclusive licence to Idera’s two most-advanced DNA-based toll-like receptor 9 agonists, called IMO-2055 and IMO-2125, for use in cancer applications other than vaccines. The first is being evaluated in a Phase IIa trial in patients with renal-cell carcinoma and in a Phase Ib study in combination with Genentech’s Tarceva (erlotinib) and Avastin (bevacizumab) for advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

IMO-2055 is also being tested in a Phase I trial in combination with chemotherapy agents in patients with refractory solid tumours. IMO-2125 is in a Phase I trial in patients with chronic hepatitis C who have not responded to standard treatment but this indication is not part of the Merck deal.

On the cash front, Merck is forking out an upfront fee of $40 million, plus up to $381 million in milestone payments if Idera achieves a number of development and commercialisation goals. Royalties will also be paid out for the drugs that make it to market.

Vincent Aurentz, head of portfolio management and business development at Merck Serono, said that the collaboration with Idera will help the firm’s “development of innovative approaches to cancer therapies”. He added that “TLR9 agonists represent a novel mechanism of action with great potential and we
look forward to advancing their development for various oncology indications”.