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Merck Serono sets up Cancer Platform

By: Pharma News | Views: 943 | Date: 30-Jul-2013

It will consist of a dedicated, in-house team of researchers and clinicians in a trio of clusters who will join forces with academics, plus research and other pharma organisations to push candidate molecules from the bench to proof of confidence.The three research areas are: therapeutic cancer vaccines, targeting antigens to elicit a tumour-specific immune response; cancer stem cells which would be used to stop or reduce tumours forming or spreading; and immunotolerance.

Merck Serono sets up Cancer Platform

Merck Serono is attempting to speed up R&D on products which stimulate the immune system to fight cancer by establishing what it calls an immuno-oncology platform.

It will consist of a dedicated, in-house team of researchers and clinicians in a trio of clusters who will join forces with academics, plus research and other pharma organisations to push candidate molecules from the bench to proof of confidence.

The three research areas are: therapeutic cancer vaccines, targeting antigens to elicit a tumour-specific immune response; cancer stem cells which would be used to stop or reduce tumours forming or spreading; and immunotolerance.

The latter cluster will look at ways to get round the mechanics by which the immune system can prevent the body recognising and attacking cancer cells.

The idea is that by bringing together research and early-stage development and biomarker strategies, it should be possible to speed up the search for investigational treatments which work with the body and can be used with existing and future therapies.

“In order to spur research and early development in this specialised area, we have created an innovative environment where researchers and clinicians work side-by-side to advance potential new cancer immunotherapies,” explained the company’s head of global research and early development, Bernhard Kirschbaum.

The company has a few immuno-oncology candidates in its pipeline, all of which target solid tumours.

They include a monoclonal antibody targeting PD-L1 (programmed cell death ligand) and NHS-IL12 which targets IL-12 and is sponsored by the US National Cancer Institute, both of which are in Phase I.

There is also NHS-IL2, whose target is IL-2, and which is about to enter Phase II.

Merck KGaA, which owns Merck Serono, has already said it will have no major new pharma launches in any therapy area this year or next.

The company has experienced a number of regulatory setbacks, including key multiple sclerosis drug cladribine which was expected to reach blockbuster sales, but was scrapped when regulators were unconvinced.

It is also a time of change for the German firm: it announced in April that the HQ of Merck Serono would be moved from Geneva to Darmstadt, with the loss of 500 jobs across Swiss operations and the transfer of another 750 to other locations. 

And last September it announced plans to cut more than 10% of its workforce in Germany by the end of 2015 as part of a global efficiency programme.

However, Merck Serono performed well in 2013, with sales up 7.8% year on year to €6 billion - a significant proportion of which came from two products: multiple sclerosis drug Rebif grew 7.5% to €1.9 billion while cancer treatment Erbitux was up 1.9% to €887 million.

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