Merck (known as MSD outside the boundaries of the US and Canada) has entered a multi-year strategic research collaboration agreement with Cerevance, a drug discovery and development specialist focused on central nervous system (CNS) conditions. The initiative involves the identification of novel targets for Alzheimer’s disease, harnessing Cerevance’s Nuclear Enriched Transcript Sort sequencing (NETSseq) platform, with the company concurrently out-licensing one discovery-stage program to Merck.
Cerevance CEO Craig Thompson told Outsourcing-Pharma that the NETSseq platform is capable of identifying transcriptomic-based disease targets for numerous neurodegenerative disorders, using post-mortem human brain tissue.
“By powering our technology to capture only the specific cell types known to be associated with the disorder of interest, we can map which genes are activated for which cell types throughout the brain in both diseased and healthy tissue,” Thompson explained. “Because NETSseq identifies targets that are differently regulated in these diseases, we are well positioned to advance a broad pipeline of assets targeting new mechanisms that are expected to have greater specificity and significantly fewer off-target side effects; this enables more informed drug development strategies for a variety of neurodegenerative disorders.”
Cerevance reportedly is receiving $25m USD in the form of an upfront payment, with the possibility of subsequent development and commercial milestone payments totaling approximately $1.1b, with the addition of potential royalties on sales of approved products emerging from the collaboration.
“The establishment of this collaboration with Merck, which comes on the heels of our positive Phase II data for CVN424 in patients with Parkinson’s disease, represents a significant milestone for Cerevance and reinforces the promise of our NETSseq technology platform,” said Mark Carlton, Cerevance’s chief scientific officer.
Jason Uslaner, vice president and head of neuroscience discovery with Merck Research Laboratories, said, “Progress in our understanding of the biology of neurodegenerative diseases continues to reveal compelling new mechanisms for potential therapeutic intervention. We look forward to advancing the discovery program as well as taking advantage of the NETSseq platform to identify new targets with the team at Cerevance.”
According to Cerevance, the NETSseq platform has been utilized to analyze specific cell populations in thousands of post-mortem, healthy, and diseased human brain tissue samples across a range of ages and brain regions. Thompson commented the technology and company’s experts offer hope to patients struggling with neurodegenerative disorders.
“We have assembled a world-class team of senior executives, clinical professionals, and advisors, with extensive expertise in clinical research, fundraising, partnering, and commercialization of therapeutics,” he commented. “With our collective vision, our veteran team is shifting the paradigm in drug discovery and development for significantly complex and multi-faceted neurological and psychiatric disorders.”