Merck & Co. partners with Themis Bioscience to develop vaccine candidates

Merck & Co. has entered into a collaboration and exclusive license agreement with Themis Bioscience for the discovery and development of undisclosed vaccine candidates using Themis' Themaxyn platform, which relies on the use of the standard measles vaccine as a vaccination vector, the latter company announced Thursday. Erich Tauber, chief executive at Themis, said "given the versatility of our immune-modulation platform and our proven ability to rapidly generate product candidates across a broad range of infectious disease and cancer indications, our partnership with Merck…validates the potential of our measles virus-based technology."

Under the agreed terms, Merck will provide research funding and make an equity investment in Themis, which will be responsible for developing vaccine candidates against an undisclosed disease target. Merck will also pay Themis up to about $200 million in various milestones, in addition to royalties on sales of approved products stemming from the collaboration. No further financial details were disclosed.

"At [Merck], we continue to evaluate technologies with the potential to deliver novel vaccine candidates," commented Daria Hazuda, the drugmaker's vice president of infectious diseases and vaccine discovery.

The news comes after Merck said in June that it planned to pursue small and midsize deals to expand the company's portfolio beyond its Keytruda (pembrolizumab) immunotherapy. Merck later unveiled a strategy to advance its pipeline, including vaccines, for which it sees a "significant long-term opportunity" for growth globally in both paediatric and adult patients.

Meanwhile, Themis explained that it has demonstrated the potential of its platform, which it licenses from the Institut Pasteur, through the rapid and successful completion of Phase II and near-term entry into Phase III clinical development for a vaccine against Chikungunya virus.  

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