The Big Biopharma firm announced this week it had signed a definitive agreement to buy Israel-based cancer immunotherapy developer cCAM Biotherapeutics for $95m (€85m) upfront with a potential $510m to be paid across a number of development and commercial milestones.
cCAM’s lead candidate is CM-24, a humanized monoclonal antibody targeting the immune checkpoint protein CEACAM1 currently being evaluated in Phase I studies for several immune-oncology indications, and will further boost Merck’s biologic pipeline.
Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck (known as MSD outside North America), said during a conference call to discuss Q2 2015 results yesterday that such a deal helped “continue to augment our pipeline,” as the firm looks to future growth.
The firm also revealed during the call that a deal with Belgium-based Ablynx, originally inked in 2012 and worth potentially €1.7bn, was being extended, as a further example of Merck looking to grow its pipeline.
The expansion of the agreement enables Merck to select up to 12 additional programmess involving nanobodies, which are made from B lymphocytes in llamas.
“Nanobodies [single-domain antibodies] are small single chain antibodies that may be concatenated relatively simply using well described molecular engineering techniques to produce multivalent therapeutic candidates including nanobodies that block multiple immune checkpoint targets simultaneously,” Roger Perlmutter – President of Merck Research Laboratories – said during the call.
The tiny size of such single-domain antibodies (one tenth that of a standard antibody) have been said to help biologic makers develop combination drugs and offer alternative to injections for delivery routes of such products.
Merck is far from the only Big Pharma concentrating on growing its biopharmaceuticals pipeline. Bristol-Myers Squibb has said it expects 75% of its future portfolio to comprise of biologics, while a shifting pipeline has led AstraZeneca to actively shutter some of its small molecule drug plants whilst simultaneously building up its biologics production network.