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FierceBiotech:Merck KGaA buys into Abbisko’s late-stage joint tumor med for $70M upfront

Dec 05,2023
By Abbisko
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Merck KGaA’s year-long quest to become leaner and rely more on external innovation has led to a $70 million partnership with Chinese biotech Abbisko Therapeutics for rights to a late-stage joint tumor med called pimicotinib.

In exchange for the upfront fee and undisclosed biobucks, Merck will take hold of commercialization rights in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, according to an announcement Monday. Merck also has the option to add on rights for the rest of the world. 

What the larger pharma is paying for is a phase 3-stage treatment for tenosynovial giant cell tumor (TGCT), a benign tumor that can cause painful joint swelling and stiffness. The drug is an oral small molecule that is an antagonist against colony stimulating factor-1 receptor (CSF-1R). Activation of the receptor triggers the recruitment of macrophages, which then stick to and make up a chunk of these multi-cell tumors. Recent phase 2 data showed that patients who received a 50 mg once daily dose of pimicotinib had an 87.5% response rate. 

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“Pimicotinib provides an opportunity to address a significant unmet medical need and for us to expand our commercial footprint in oncology in China, the second-largest pharmaceutical market in the world,” said Andrew Paterson, chief marketing officer of Merck’s healthcare business, in a release. 

TGCT is just the tip of the iceberg for pimicotinib, with Abbisko additionally developing the asset to treat chronic graft-versus-host disease and solid tumors. The drug is also in preclinical studies as a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), work that’s in collaboration with Sperogenix Therapeutics. Merck KGaA can “co-develop pimicotinib in additional indications under certain conditions,” according to today's release. 

The licensing deal is the latest in a busy business development year for Merck, teased in late November 2022 when executives laid out a vision to be “leaner” and rely more on external innovation to buoy the pipeline. The company most recently paid $169 million for ex-China rights to a PARP1 inhibitor developed by Jiangsu Hengrui Pharmaceuticals and in September, signed two separate drug discovery deals with AI biotechs Benevolent and Exscientia. 

By Max Bayer

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