German drugmaker Merck KGaA has entered into a multi-year, multi-target alliance with US group Archemix to develop first-in-class aptamer-based therapies for the treatment of cancer.

Under terms of the deal, Archemix stands to receive an upfront payment and research funding of some $10 million, as well as milestones and royalty payments for products brought to market under the collaboration. In addition, Archemix has the option to co-promote any products derived from the alliance.

Explaining the group’s rationale behind the move, Dr Bernhard Kirschbaum, Executive Senior Vice President and Director of Research for Merck Serono, said: “Archemix is the leader in the field of aptamers, a new class of drugs that has tremendous potential in the battle against cancer. We hope this collaboration will further our efforts to provide physicians and oncology patients with innovative, targeted cancer treatments.”

And according to Dr Errol De Souza, President and Chief Executive Officer of Archemix: “This alliance is the fourth major partnership we have formed over the past six months and is consistent with our strategy to enable partners to leverage aptamers as drugs on a target by target basis."

Aptamers work in a similar way to antibodies but, as they are synthesised chemically as opposed to being biologically expressed, could offer a substantial cost benefit as they are cheaper to produce.