Merck Serono has entered into a drug development alliance with the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), providing the financial muscle and expertise to advance some of the latter's discoveries in oncology.

The group - the biopharmaceutical arm of Merck KGaA - has licensed rights to develop and commercialise the Centre's new inhibitors of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase.

ATR kinase plays an important role how cells respond to DNA damage and in facilitating their survival. Because tumour cells accumulate more DNA damage than healthy cells, blocking ATR kinase activity with selective inhibitors "appears to be a strategy worth investigating further for specific tumour types," Merck noted.

For an initial payment along with other potential income of up to nearly 19 million euros, as well as royalties on net sales, Merck has bought itself rights to two series of ATR inhibitors plus a screening platform to validate the compounds, which are in the preclinical stage of development.

The deal falls in line with the firm's focus on strategic partnerships to bring a "constant flow of innovations" through its pipeline, noted Andree Blaukat, Head of Translational Innovation Platform Oncology for Merck Serono.

From the other side of the fence, CNIO director María Blasco said "it is through collaborations with industry oncology leaders that we can bring CNIO discoveries…to patients, and contribute new improved products to the battle against cancer".