U.S. pharma group Merck’s already impressive immuno-oncology pipeline has been beefed up through a deal with Sichuan Kelun Pharmaceutical of China to add an undisclosed cancer-treating drug to its slate. Though details are scant, it is known that Merck owes $47 million in upfront payments for licensing rights outside Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Macao. Of that total, only $30 million is actually left to pay, as an earlier collaboration on the same drug accounted for $17 million from Merck. An additional $1.36 billion in milestone payments as well as royalties on the drug’s sales are also part and parcel of the agreement.
Kelun Pharma is keen to capitalize on the international market entry opportunities this deal entails. Also armed with a U.S.-based subsidiary called Klus Pharma, the company has developed an assortment of small molecules, monoclonal antibodies, bispecific antibodies, and ADC candidates for oncology and non-oncology indications.
Industry chatter has helped whittle down the possibilities for what the drug in question might be, with the two finalists in this conjecture being Kelun Pharma’s TROP2-targeting antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) SKB264 and its HER2-targeting ADC A166. Their commonalities include being in early-stage U.S. testing and reaching the phase-2 development stage in China. Some see SKB264 as the more logical choice, as it would pair nicely with Merck’s immuno-oncology powerhouse, Keytruda, and given that TROP2 is a validated target.