Merck & Co. enters deal with Skyhawk to develop small molecules that modulate RNA splicing

Merck & Co. entered a strategic collaboration with Skyhawk Therapeutics to develop small molecules that modulate RNA splicing, the latter company announced Monday. Under the agreement, Skyhawk will use its SkySTAR technology platform to develop drug candidates directed to multiple targets for neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.  

"RNA splicing modification offers a new approach to modulating targets previously considered undruggable," remarked Dean Li, senior vice president of discovery and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories, adding "we look forward to working with the scientists at Skyhawk to explore the potential of this new modality."  

Under the agreed terms, Merck will receive an option to exclusively license global intellectual property rights to candidates discovered and developed under the partnership. Upon exercise of the option, Merck will hold responsibility for further development and commercialisation. As part of the deal, Skyhawk is eligible to receive approximately $600 million per programme target consisting of an upfront cash payment and, if Merck exercises its option, potential opt-in fees, milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales of commercialised products.  

The news comes after Skyhawk entered into a partnership with Takeda in May to use its SkySTAR platform to develop small-molecule treatments directed against certain neurological disease targets. More recently, the drugmaker expanded its existing partnership with Biogen to develop treatments for neurological conditions to include the use of the SkySTAR platform.

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