Merck licenses Vertex tool to Vertex
In order to improve its genome editing methods, the US company Vertex has signed a license agreement for two enhancer substances with the Darmstadt-based pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA. Interesting: Vertex had awarded the exclusive worldwide licenses to the programs to Merck two years ago.
The 2017 license agreement, with an upfront payment of USD 230 million from Merck (Xetra:MRK) to Vertex (NASDAQ:VRTX), is likely to have been significantly more expensive than the agreement presented at the end of January. Vertex also only receives the licenses for a narrowly defined area: Specifically, the US company is allowed to use two of these booster substances (four in 2017) in parallel with its own genome editing therapies for six hereditary diseases. Merck retains the licenses for all other application scenarios – including those in oncology.
As the DAX group announced, it will receive an upfront payment as well as milestone payments and license payments on future sales. Further details were not released.
The drug candidates are so-called DNA damage response (DDR) inhibitors that inhibit DNA-dependent protein kinases. The low-molecular substances are being developed by Merck as classic cancer therapeutics. However, these molecules also increase the efficiency of CRISPR-mediated insertions via the homology-driven repair pathway (HDR pathway) because the competing repair pathway (non-homologous end joining, NHEJ) is deactivated by the DDR inhibitors. This is exactly what Vertex wants to use for its therapeutic genome editing. However, the booster potential could also be increased, for example, in oncology in combination with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
One of the two licensed programs is known: M9831 (VX-984). The molecule has already passed phase I clinical trials.
Vertex is not only in exchange with Merck in Central Europe. In autumn 2018, a clinical study initiated by Vertex and CRISPR Theapeutics (Switzerland) with the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system started in Regensburg (Germany) – the first CRISPR study in Europe financed by a company.