GSK and Merck KGaA end collaboration on cancer drug hopeful

pharmafile | October 1, 2021 | News story | Medical Communications  

GSK and German based Merck KGaA announced on Thursday that they have ended their collaboration on cancer treatment bintrafusp alfa, once seen as one of Merck’s most promising experimental drugs.

In a statement Merck said the move was a mutual decision, mostly due to disappointing lung cancer trial data, adding that no milestone payments were made by GSK and no future milestone obligations remain.

GSK was co-developing the drug with Merck under a 2019 agreement that could have seen it pay up to $4.5 billion. Merck collected €300 million upfront in 2019 through the pact, with an additional €500 million in milestones and €2.9 billion in sales possible down the line.

In January Merck said the late-stage lung cancer study, which was testing bintrafusp alfa against US namesake Merck & Co’s bestseller Keytruda in a certain type of lung cancer, was stopped early because the drug was unlikely to show the desired effect.

Keytruda dominates a class of immunotherapies known as checkpoint inhibitors, and is expected to generate $17 billion in revenues this year.

At the time, Merck KGaA’s shares dropped as much as 7% after the news that the INTR@PID Lung 037 trial was stopped.

The bintrafusp alfa drug is a bifunctional immunotherapy designed to combine a TGF-β trap with the anti-PD-L1 mechanism in one fusion protein. In plain English, bintrafusp alfa was supposed to control tumour growth by enhancing or restoring anti-tumour responses in the immune system. Merck and GSK hoped it could become a targeted treatment for difficult-to-treat cancers. Merck said it would end several remaining bintrafusp trials including on lung cancer, breast cancer, and bladder cancer. However, one trial testing the drug against cervical cancer would continue, it added.

In a statement Merck said: “Given the extent of the clinical programme, Merck will deepen its scientific leadership in the field and interrogate the data leveraging the power of advanced analytics. The important insights this programme has yielded about the biology of TGF-β will inform the collective understanding of this pathway.”

Kat Jenkins


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