Merck Pushes Deeper Into Pre-Clinical Third Party Small Molecule Oncology — With Harvard’s $20 M Deal

John Carroll is a very wise, and able narrator here. And he is certainly correct, when he predicts that this sort of deal (pre-clinical; relatively large upfronts, for a very promising small molecule) is a harbiger of things to come — throughout the emergent landscape of biotech development deals. And I’d add to that observation — especially so, where big biotechs partner with academic third party research labs. Kenilworth is obviously making an increasingly big set of diversified bets — all aimed at leading in oncology, broadly — well into the 21st Century.

Do go read all of John’s, over at FierceBiotech, this morning. His is the definitive write up, so I’ll quote just a bit, below:

. . . .Kohlberg and the Harvard Square squad are also coy about just what Merck is getting in the deal. There are some trial-ready small molecules that “inhibit enzymes that regulate the transcription of key genetic programs that are altered in AML and other cancers.” But that’s about as far as they want to go.

Harvard officials, though, tipped their hand last fall with a report on Shair’s work that we wrote up in FierceBiotechResearch. Shair’s lab synthesized a molecule called cortastatin A, which was extracted from sea sponges. The molecule inhibits a pair of kinase twins–CDK8 and CDK19–and the team came up with a three-dimensional structure that they say narrowed the drug’s focus to a very limited set of targets–reducing the chances of off-target toxicity. The strategy turns up the activity of genes involved in AML cells, restoring them to their normal identity and preventing further growth. And they’ve been crafting new molecules that can do the same work even better, building them in a way that should ease manufacturing processes during clinical development.

Add it all up, Harvard said in September, and you had a nice package deal waiting for a drug developer ready to take it into human studies. Six months later, Merck — which has shown just how aggressive it can be in development — won the bid. . . .

We will keep an eye on this one. Onward now, with a spring in my step, this fine morning. . .


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