Merck Sereno, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck, and the synthetic biology leader Intrexon announced yesterday an exclusive strategic collaboration and license agreement to develop and commercialize Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T) cancer therapies. 

CAR-T cells are genetically engineered T-cells with synthetic receptors that recognize a specific antigen expressed on tumor cells. When CAR-T cells bind to a target, an immunological attack against the cancer cells is triggered.  Utilizing Intrexon’s cell engineering techniques and RheoSwitch platform, the collaboration aims to develop leading-edge products that empower the immune system in a regulated manner to overcome the current challenges of CAR-T therapy.

The agreement provides Merck Serono exclusive access to Intrexon’s proprietary and complementary suite of technologies to engineer T-cells with optimized and inducible gene expression, while Intrexon will be responsible for all platform and product developments until IND filing. Merck will nominate targets of interest for which CAR-T products will be developed. Merk will also lead the IND filing and pre-IND interactions, clinical development and commercialization. In addition, Intrexon has the opportunity to explore targets independently, granting Merck opt-in rights during clinical development.

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For Randal J. Kirk, Chairman and CEO of Intrexon : “Merck is an ideal partner in CAR-T for us because of their long-term perspective, extraordinary character, worldwide reach and commitment to leadership in immunooncology”.

Under the terms of the agreement, Intrexon will receive an upfront payment of €107.3M. For the first two targets of interest selected by Merck Serono, Intrexon will receive research funding and is eligible to receive up to €770.5M development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as tiered royalties on product sales. In addition, Intrexon is also eligible to receive further payments upon achievement of certain technology development milestones.

As a conclusion, Belen Garijo, President and CEO of Merck Serono explained: “The collaboration with Intrexon underlies Merck Serono’s focus on innovation, and enhances its R&D technology portfolio in immuno-oncology”.

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