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License to Pill: Biotech and pharma deals from Dec. 30-Jan. 10

There was no holiday respite from dealmaking activity as Roche Holding AG, Merck & Co. Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. maintained a brisk pace of licensing agreements during the two-week period ended Jan. 10, according to data compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Deals for the two-week period covered treatments for cancer, liver and intestinal diseases and vaccines, among others.

Merck's collaboration with Japan's Taiho Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. to develop a range of cancer therapies led the list of dealmaking by up-front value.

Kenilworth, N.J.-based Merck said it will pay both companies $50 million up front to receive an exclusive global license to therapies developed as a result of the program, and that it will be responsible for funding research and development and global commercialization of the therapies.

Novo Nordisk's pact with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals Inc., announced in November 2019, was also sealed during this period. The Danish company will make a $175 million payment to Lexington, Mass.-based Dicerna to develop therapies for liver and cardio-metabolic diseases using Dicerna's RNAi technology.

The agreement will see both companies explore more than 30 liver cell targets for disorders including chronic liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, type 2 diabetes and rare diseases, among other things. Novo Nordisk will also make a $50 million investment in Dicerna.

At least two of the agreements were related to technology platforms. One involved Roche, which entered into a pact with private biopharmaceutical company Amunix Operating Inc. to use Amunix's Xten technology platform to develop non-cancer treatments. The platform directs infection-fighting cells in the immune system.

The two-week period also saw Bristol-Myers Squibb and Nektar Therapeutics revise their collaboration to advance their cancer therapies into new clinical trials in melanoma and bladder cancer.

The extended agreement involves Nektar's investigational therapy bempegaldesleukin, or bempeg, and Bristol-Myers' marketed cancer medicine Opdivo, or nivolumab. The companies already have three ongoing trials in melanoma, urothelial cancer and kidney carcinoma.

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