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Merck to invest $125m in Moderna Therapeutics

PBR Staff Writer Published 04 May 2018

Merck has agreed to invest $125m in Moderna Therapeutics under a new agreement that expands the firms’ 2016 partnership to develop messenger RNA (mRNA) cancer vaccines.

The deal now includes shared antigen mRNA cancer vaccines including mRNA-5671, Moderna’s mRNA KRAS cancer vaccine.

Merck and Moderna will now jointly advance mRNA-5671 in human studies, and combination studies with additional immuno-oncology therapies are also in the pipeline.

The US biotechnology company started developing mRNA-5671 since 2017, which will now be advanced jointly with Merck in human trials. The partners also intend to carry out combination trials with other immuno-oncology therapies.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said: “We are excited to build upon our productive relationship with Merck and to rapidly advance our novel mRNA-based KRAS cancer vaccine into the clinic.

“While KRAS has long been a challenging target, we believe our mRNA platform offers a novel approach designed to generate and specifically present KRAS mutations to the immune system, potentially allowing the patient’s own immune system to attack and eradicate cancers that harbor these mutations.”      

As per the terms of the expanded collaboration, Merck will handle the clinical development of mRNA-5671 and related costs while Moderna will look after clinical supply and associated costs of the mRNA KRAS cancer vaccine.

After the human proof-of-concept (hPOC) studies are completed, Merck has the option to take part in further development and commercialization of mRNA-5671 subject to a payment of an undisclosed sum to Moderna. This will enable the companies to equally share the global net profits and costs pertained to the cancer vaccine.

Merck and Moderna may also initiate and work together on other shared antigen mRNA cancer vaccines programs, as per their new deal.

Merck Research Laboratories president Roger Perlmutter said: “Augmentation of immune responses offers great promise in cancer therapy, as our work with the PD-1-specific antibody KEYTRUDA has shown. 

“We now look forward to expanding our exploration of mRNA cancer vaccines, working in concert with our colleagues at Moderna.”

Earlier, this year, Moderna raised $500m in a new funding round, which it will use in the execution of its pipeline of 19 development candidates, including 10 programs in clinical trials.

Image: Merck will handle the clinical development of Moderna’s mRNA KRAS cancer vaccine. Photo: courtesy of Baitong333/