German pharma company Merck KGaA has announced a new partnership with BioMed X, an independent research institute located at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, in the area of oncology.

This collaboration is Merck and BioMed X eighth joint research programme, with the newest partnership set to explore the role of extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA) in cancer.

The new research programme will complement two of BioMed X’s other ongoing oncology programmes focused on DNA damage response and RNA splicing.

Recently, ecDNA was discovered to be prevalent in multiple human cancer cells, with its frequency varying among different types of cancer.

On top of that, high levels of ecDNA may correlate with poor clinical outcomes in human cancers, according to BioMed X.

The overarching goal of the project is to create a comprehensive ‘atlas’ of ecDNA in human cancer tissues and investigate how oncogenes in ecDNA could contribute to tumorigenesis, disease progression, tumour heterogeneity, metastasisa and treatment resistance.

The research programme will then aim to develop novel therapeutic strategies based on oncogenic alterations in ecDNA.

“We are pleased to extend our collaboration even further in the field of cancer research,” said Christian Tidona, founder and managing director of the BioMed X Institute.

“This new programme will strengthen our expertise at the forefront of deep cancer biology which can potentially lead to better treatment options for patients,” he added.