Merck “Ups Its Ante” In Moderna — To $300 Million; Deepens Collaboration In Immuno-Oncology

We last reported on this longer-term R&D bet by Kenilworth in January of 2015. Back then Merck put in $100 million — it is adding $200 million today — and still there is no proof of this bioscience concept in vivo.

Even so, it is a quite exciting validation of the work Moderna is doing — and would dovetail with Merck’s pembrolizumab penetration, globally in many cancers, should it all prove out. Here’s a bit from the press release of this morning:

. . . .Moderna and Merck will develop personalized cancer vaccines that utilize Moderna’s mRNA vaccine technology to encode a patient’s specific neoantigens, unique mutations present in that specific patient’s tumor. . . .

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will make an upfront cash payment to Moderna of $200 million, which Moderna will use to lead all research and development efforts through proof of concept. The development program will entail multiple studies in several types of cancer and include the evaluation of mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines in combination with Merck’s Keytruda® (pembrolizumab). Moderna will also utilize the upfront payment to fund a portion of the build-out of a GMP manufacturing facility in suburban Boston for the purpose of personalized cancer vaccine manufacturing.

Following human proof of concept studies, Merck has the right to elect to make an additional undisclosed payment to Moderna. If exercised, the two companies will then equally share cost and profits under a worldwide collaboration for the development of personalized cancer vaccines. Moderna will have the right to elect to co-promote the personalized cancer vaccines in the U.S. The agreement entails exclusivity around combinations with KEYTRUDA. Moderna and Merck will each have the ability to combine mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines with other (non-PD-1) agents. . . .

We will keep an eye in this. Onward, as we wind down for the long holiday weekend, starting tomorrow. Smiling, just the same.

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