Merck & Co. entered into an agreement with Foghorn Therapeutics to develop drugs against a transcription factor target believed to be relevant to a broad range of cancer patients, the latter company reported Wednesday. The collaboration will utilise Foghorn's Gene Traffic Control product platform focused on chromatin dysregulation.
As part of the deal, Merck will receive exclusive global rights to develop and commercialise therapeutics that target dysregulation of a single transcription factor. Foghorn will receive an upfront payment and research milestones from Merck, and is also eligible for development, regulatory and commercial milestones potentially totaling up to $425 million, as well as sales royalties from any approved products emerging from the tie-up.
Tough targets to drug
Nick Haining, who heads discovery oncology and immunology at Merck Research Laboratories, said "there is broad evidence for the role of dysregulated transcription factors in multiple cancer types, but these have been difficult targets to drug." Meanwhile, Foghorn CEO Adrian Gottschalk, who used to head neurodegeneration research at Biogen, said the ability of his company "to systematically drug transcription factors using our proprietary product platform opens vast potential to discover and develop novel cancer treatments."
Since its launch in 2018, Foghorn has used its work into how to systematically drug the chromatin regulatory system to start at least 10 preclinical programmes. Gottschalk said the drug candidates, small molecules and protein degraders, are being evaluated in a wide range of cancers, adding that Foghorn plans to seek FDA approval later this year to advance one of its programmes into clinical testing, although the company is not providing any details at the moment.
According to Foghorn, dysregulation of the chromatin system may play a role in cancers that affect about 2.5 million patients in the US, Europe, and Japan. It added that the system is implicated in neurological, autoimmune and other serious diseases as well.
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