T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies are designed to recognize and bind to an antigen on tumor cells as well as an activating receptor on T-cells, such as CD3, in order to directly recruit and activate T-cells against tumor cells.
The research collaboration and exclusive license agreement is set to leverage Merus' proprietary Biclonics platform along with the drug design expertise of the Lilly division.
Under the terms of the partnership, the Utrecht, Netherlands based, Merus, will lead discovery and early stage research activities while the Lilly business will be responsible for additional research, development and commercialization activities.
Merus will receive an upfront cash payment of US$40m, as well as an equity investment by Lilly of US$20m in Merus common shares. It is also eligible to receive up to US$540m in potential development and commercialization milestones per product, for a total of up to US$1.6bn for three products, as well as tiered royalties should Lilly successfully commercialize a therapy from the tie-up.
"CD3-engaging bispecific antibodies are rapidly becoming one of the most transformative immune-modulating modalities used to treat cancer. We expect these therapies will become an important component of the Loxo Oncology at Lilly biologics strategy," said Jacob Van Naarden, chief operating officer of Loxo Oncology at Lilly. "Merus has built a differentiated platform and one that we believe can enable us to create bispecific antibody therapies with wider therapeutic indexes than those available today.”
Bispecific antibodies creating a lot of noise
Bispecifics are said to be one of the fastest growing formats in clinical development. Indeed, the industry is seeing collaborations of a similar nature being announced with regularity.
Two weeks ago, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Xencor also announced a strategic research collaboration and commercialization agreement to develop novel CD3 bispecific antibody therapeutics for the potential treatment of patients with cancer.
Xencor flagged its innovative XmAb technology and protein engineering expertise to create bispecific antibodies as complementary to MD Anderson's expertise in the research and discovery of novel therapeutic antibodies.
MD Anderson will then conduct and fund all preclinical activities to advance candidates toward clinical studies. Xencor has certain exclusive options to license worldwide rights to develop and commercialize potential new medicines arising from the research collaboration.
In August last year, Canadian biotechnology company, AbCellera, also made an acquisition in this respect, with it looking to serve the emerging bispecific market through the purchase of OrthoMab from Dualogics, a US biotech. Dualogics applied that platform to various projects including the development of a bispecific treatment for triple negative breast cancer.
By acquiring OrthoMab and hiring Dualogics’s chief technology officer, Tim Jacobs, AbCellera said then that it could help bispecifics fulfill their potential.
“The technological barriers for successful development of bispecifics, including challenges in discovery, pair selection, protein engineering and manufacturing, are keeping many firms out. By welcoming Tim to our team and OrthoMab into our stack, we have consolidated the talent and technologies needed to address these challenges,” said AbCellera CEO Carl Hansen.