Merck & Co. and Moderna Therapeutics on Thursday announced an expansion of their 2016 partnership focused on novel personalised mRNA cancer vaccines. Under the expanded deal, Merck will pay $125 million to Moderna to jointly advance the investigational vaccine mRNA-5671, which targets KRAS, in human studies. Merck Research Laboratories president Roger Perlmutter stated "augmentation of immune responses offers great promise in cancer therapy," adding "we now look forward to expanding our exploration of mRNA cancer vaccines, working in concert with our colleagues at Moderna."
Under the agreed terms, Merck will hold responsibility for the clinical development of mRNA-5671, with Moderna being responsible for clinical supply and associated costs. Following proof-of-concept studies in humans, Merck will have an option to further develop and commercialise mRNA-5671 for an undisclosed payment. If Merck chooses to exercise its option, the companies will share both developmental costs and profits associated with the treatment.
The companies explained that Moderna's KRAS mRNA programme uses tumour sequencing to identify suitable patients with specific mutations in KRAS to personalise treatment, as well as complement the other personalised mRNA cancer vaccines in the partnership. The drugmakers added that mRNA-5671, which encodes for the four most commonly found KRAS mutations, is specifically designed to target most KRAS mutations occurring in non-small-cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Merck vice president of clinical oncology Eric Rubin noted that the initial study designs will use single-arm studies testing mRNA-5671 in combination with Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in conditions such as pancreatic or colorectal cancer.
"We're excited about the potential for targeting KRAS," commented Rubin, continuing "there's good data to support that a vaccine approach might work."
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